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Players and coaches pose with (seated, from left) tournament director Tony Boy Liao, organizing Sports Vision president Ricky Palou and Cignal TV Channels and TV Content Marketing manager Paulo Fernandez during the PVL Invitational Conference launch at Century Park’s Badjao Room.

MANILA, Philippines — It’s all systems go for the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Invitationals as seven local teams fight for the right to play with two foreign squads from Taiwan and Japan in the semifinals round.

Chery Tiggo, last year’s Open Conference champion, and Choco Mucho highlight the opener of the midseason tournament on July 9 at San Juan Arena.

The Crossovers, who had a disappointing eighth-place finish in the first conference, will parade their new coach, Clarence Esteban, against the Flying Titans at 5:30 p.m. with Dindin Santiago-Manabat leading the charge as Jaja Santiago is already in Japan for Ageo Medics’ Summer League stint.

“We will have the same line-up from the previous Open Conference. We improved the skills and chemistry of our team. We hope to have a better finish this time,” said Esteban in Filipino in the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday at Century Park Hotel. 

Jovelyn Gonzaga, who won a Southeast Asian Games bronze medal with the Philippine women’s beach volleyball team, returns to indoor action with Black Mamba Army as it opens its campaign against Cignal, led by her best friend Rachel Anne Daquis, at 2:30 p.m.

“I’m excited because it’s been a while since I played indoor volleyball due to my national team stint in beach volleyball. We played against them (Kobe Shinwa) but we lost in straight sets. We cannot underestimate their team and even the club from Taipei,” said Gonzaga, who was still with Daquis at Cignal when they last faced Kobe Shinwa and lost in three sets in another league five years ago.

FOREIGN TEAMS ‘TO BE RECKONED WITH’

Sports Vision president Ricky Palou said their local teams — also composed of unbeaten Open Conference champion Creamline, Petro Gazz, and PLDT —  should brace for the two foreign squads Kobe Shinwa University of Japan and KingWhale Taipei, who are set to spice up the semifinals round of the Invitationals.

“The team from Taiwan is a club team, so it’s a very strong team they’re one of the better club teams in Taiwan,” said Palou, who was accompanied by PVL commissioner Tonyboy Liao and Paulo Fernandez of CignalTV.

“The team from Japan is a collegiate team, but we should not take them for granted, because they’re one of the top collegiate teams in Japan. I think they participated here a couple of years back. The club teams here, they were able to defeat them. They’re going to be a team to reckon with also,” he added.

Creamline, which swept the Open Conference, is currently in Baguio for its training camp, eyeing its second conference title this season.

TOURNAMENT FORMAT

The seven club teams will clash in a single round robin with the top four squads advancing to the semifinals to play another round robin with Kobe Shinwa and KingWhale.

The top two squads of the semifinals will clash in a winner-take-all championship match at Mall of Asia Arena.

“We made it a one game knockout (in the championship) because the Japanese team has to be back in Japan by September 8. We’d like to end, at the latest, September 7. They have their own tournament,” Liao said.

All elimination games will be held at San Juan Arena except for the July 23 showdown between sister teams Creamline and Choco Mucho, who will play at MOA Arena. Games will be played every Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

The league will take a break from August 21 to 28 to give way to the country’s hosting and the Philippine women’s volleyball team’s campaign in the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Cup from August 21 to 28.

In case the government would place the COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 2, Palou said the PVL will be ready for any adjustments to their health and safety protocols.

“In case it goes up to Level 2, the government authority agencies will not allow the live audience to watch the games. So we’re looking at all these aspects too,” he said.

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