THE PHILIPPINE women’s volleyball team to the recent Asian Southeastern Zone qualifier in Ouang Tri, Vietnam, won one of its three games. The Filipinos lost to host Vietnam and Indonesia but picked up a four-set win against Burma (Myanmar).
More often than not, such a performance would not merit that much attention. But given that the Philippines is trying to get back into the groove of Asian volleyball and that volleyball is on such a high today, this participation is a good reentry.
It’s better than not competing. The Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission, together with sponsors Smart and Accel, did the right thing by getting the excellent players of the Shakey’s V-League for the squad and respond to the invitation of the Asian volleyball leaders.
There’s no question that the team hardly had any time to really gel, given the rushed nature of its formation. The great strength of the players is that they were battle-scarred, having played competitively in the V-League over the last two months. The core of the team had volleyball’s “Fort Santiago,” sisters Dindin and Jaja Santiago of National University, for an offense and defense. Experienced setter Rubie de Leon had Ateneo ace Alyssa Valdez, La Salle Dasmariñas’ Iari Yongco, UST’s Maika Ortiz and Rhea Dimaculangan and veteran guest player Suzanne Roces for a reasonably strong core.
The question now is where do we go from here after getting our feet wet anew in international volleyball. The team could be kept together with corporate and institutional support. The players could be asked to continue training as a national team without giving up their obligations to their school squads.
It’s a little like the Gilas formula for basketball where the PBA stars pitch in by training as a national team without losing their playing slots in their mother squads.
However, another approach for consideration is to form a team of veterans out of those who have completed their collegiate eligibility and keep them as a national team option. This team could train more regularly as a unit because there will not be heavy school obligations to manage. Key players should still be allowed to perform as guests in tournaments like the Shakey’s V-League to keep them competitive.
If there are sufficient funds in the future, this team could train and compete abroad. The only way we will be able to be on the same level as the rest of the Asian teams is to play them regularly. We can’t have the old basketball approach where we hope to beat the powers of Asia when we play them only once every two or three years. We have to meet our rivals often to know their strengths and shortcomings and, at the same time, hone our own performance.
The road back to the elite ranks of Southeast Asian women’s volleyball is still a bumpy one, given that our players are still getting the hang of playing together and against seasoned competition. Thailand was not even in the qualifier because the Thais are already a notch above the standards of the region.
But as long as we have a team that participates and is graciously supported by our sports governing bodies and by willing sponsors, then the return trip could be less tenuous and could boost volleyball to an even higher plane than where it is right now.