Volleyball’s happy problem
Nursing his second bottle of brew in a small beer joint in Davao City, national women’s head coach Francis Vicente started to loosen up in front of a few sports reporters.
He was still visibly thrilled over the fact that his former ward, superstar Alyssa Valdez, had planed in from Bangkok that afternoon to catch the tryout for the national team at nearby University of Southeastern Philippines Gym.
Out of the blue, Vicente picked the mind of this reporter: “You have two slots in the opposite [hitter] position and you have Jaja Santiago, Aiza Maizo and Jovelyn Gonzaga. Who do you eliminate?”
It was very clear that even at a busy table that also seated Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) top honchos Joey Romasanta and Pete Cayco, Vicente was already trying to form the national team in his mind.
In fact, Vicente, a respected mentor in the collegiate and club leagues, already got all the best hand of cards and all he has to do is show them. “We have to win a medal, a bronze is acceptable, but I want something better (silver or even gold) if we can,” said Vicente, referring to the team’s stint in this year’s Southeast Asian Games.
The Philippines is expected to field its strongest team in more than a decade in the SEA Games, slated Aug. 19 to 31, in Kuala Lumpur. A week before the Games, Vicente’s squad gets to gauge its strength when it competes in the Asian women’s tournament which the country is hosting on Aug. 9 to 17.
Cayco, the LVPI acting president who is in charge of the team’s formation, says a national team is also scheduled to vie in the Asian U-23 women’s championship on May 13 to 21 in Thailand, but they will scratch the trip if the federation encounters any hitch.
“During that period we could compete in other regional tournaments or join training camps in South Korea or Japan,” Cayco says.
Next to Gilas Pilipinas, pundits say the formation of the national women’s volleyball team is the most anticipated in local sports. Perhaps because of the presence of collegiate and commercial superstars like Valdez, Santiago, Maizo, Gonzaga, Aby Maraño, Mika Reyes, Dindin Manabat and Kim Fajardo, to name just a few, the team gushes with talent and drawing power.
The federation is set to announce the 24 members of the national pool this Tuesday during a special session of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) weekly forum. The pool gets pruned down to 18 after the “hard training” phase before the final 12 is announced a few weeks later.
In his book, Vicente counts 22 players with the inside track to pool berths following the recent series of tryouts held in Manila, Cebu City and Davao City. He’s coy about the lucky 12 but hints at reuniting the core of the national team he coached that placed eighth among 12 nations in the 2008 Asian Youth Championships.
That squad was by no means uncelebrated, especially if you consider how they have improved their games through the years. There’s Valdez, who now plays in the Thailand League as an import, as well as Fajardo, Santiago, Manabat, and former Ateneo libero Denden Lazaro.
“The core [of that team] will be there to tell the other players how strict I am [with nonperformers],” said Vicente, who is putting premium on youth and height.
Among the possible middle blockers he mentions are Ateneo twin towers Maddie Madayag (6 feet) and Kat Tolentino (6-2), University of Santo Tomas’ Ria Meneses (6-0), Far Eastern University’s Geneveve Casugod (6-2) and University of Perpetual Help’s Lourdes Clemente (6-2). Certified stars Reyes (5-11) and Maraño (5-9) are also excellent candidates, according to Vicente.
For libero, Vicente is also keen on La Salle’s prolific Dawn Macandili, who holds the distinction as the first libero ever to win the MVP award in the Philippine Superliga, as well as Faith Arado of University of the East, the coach’s team in the UAAP.
Setter slots will most likely go to Fajardo, who turned heads during her stint with PSL-Manila in the FIVB World Club Championships last year, and Roselle Baliton, a 6-3 tosser from UE.
Valdez heads the candidates for the open spiker position along with veterans Myla Pablo and Rachel Anne Daquis, and young guns Grethcel Soltones of San Sebastian, Kim Kianna Dy of La Salle and Remy Palma of FEU.
That brings us back to the opposite hitter position.
During that lazy evening in Davao, a pensive Vicente was thinking aloud. “Jaja is a 6-5 converted opposite, Aiza is a 5-11 veteran, and there’s Jovelyn. Who among them can be discarded?”
“That’s your problem, coach,” someone at the table answered.
Yes, indeed. And a happy problem at that.