DEFENDING CHAMP. National University will start its title-retention bid in the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference against Vanguard at Paco Arena in Manila on Wednesday (Jan. 25, 2023). NU dethroned Cignal HD in October last year. (Courtesy of Spikers’ Turf)

MANILA – Santa Rosa City Lions will take on Imus City as the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference unfolds Sunday at Paco Arena in Manila.

The Santa Rosa Lions are hoping to improve on their fifth-place finish last year, signing up former VNS players Uriel Mendoza and Kevin Montemayor.

"We played with an under-17 team the first time out. This year, we have new players and we're aiming to make it to the Top 4," said Lions assistant coach Carlos Cantor in an interview on Saturday.

Expectations are likewise high for the Sammy Acaylar-mentored Imus City, which has an impressive line-up composed of Louie Ramirez and Hero Austria, two-time league best setter Ish Polvorosa, four-time best libero Ricky Marcos, and many-time best middle blocker winners Anjo Pertierra, Kim Malabunga and Francis Saura.

Following the 4 p.m. match, the Philippine Navy and Philippine Army square off at 6 p.m.

Former Cignal playmaker Owen Suarez has joined the Navy Sea Lions, who still have Greg Dolor, Christian Marcelino, Jemmy Entig and Marvin Hairami.

"Six players have left so we have new members in the line-up. Another adjustment but we will fight," assured Navy coach Cecille Cruzada.

The Army spikers, on the other hand, will bank on PJ Rojas, Kenneth Bayking, Antonio Torres, Kevin Liberato, Jaidal Abdulmajid and Benjaylo Labide.

Other participating teams are Cignal, Cotabato, Iloilo, Vanguard, VNS Volley Club, Philippine Air Force and reigning champion National University (NU).

NU will kick off its title defense against Vanguard at 6 p.m. on Jan. 25, after the 4 p.m. duel between Air Force and Iloilo City.

The 11 teams will play in a single round robin elimination round, the semifinals will be another single round robin stage and the top two dispute the crown in a best-of-three finals. (PNA)