PH women’s volleyball team hungry more than ever to end SEA Games medal drought
MANILA, Philippines — The women’s national volleyball team is clinging to optimism as it tries to end an 18-year medal drought in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia.
Since the program was revived in the 2015 biennial meet, the Filipino Spikers led by current team captain Alyssa Valdez in the first four editions have suffered a string of heartbreaks, especially in the 2019 edition when they were a point away from ending the drought before Indonesia pulled off a come-from-behind five-set win.
However, Valdez, also the country’s flag bearer for this year’s SEA Games, is still working her way to 100 percent recovery from her right knee injury when she plays her fifth SEA Games.
But even though the skipper didn’t see action in tune-up games during their two-week Japan camp, the national team coach Jorge Souza de Brito is pleased with her recovery progress and is full of confidence in the other members of the squad bannered by holdover Mylene Paat and Creamline players led by three-time MVP Tots Carlos, setter Jia De Guzman, Jema Galanza, Michele Gumabao, Ced Domingo, and Kyla Atienza, who won three of the last four PVL titles.
‘SOUL OF THE TEAM’
“She’s the captain and the captain is not only beside the coaches and also the soul of the team. There (in Japan) she did rehab a lot. She trains in the afternoon but in the morning she’s doing rehab to bring back (her) best shape,” the Brazilian coach told Inquirer Sports. “She’s working a lot And I’m sure even if she’s not ready to play 100 percent, she can help us in another way.”
With Valdez’s playing condition still uncertain days before the SEA Games, reigning Reinforced Conference MVP Mylene Paat is expected to lead the forefront of the national team’s offense.
The third-time SEA Games campaigner, who was part of the squad that held a 14-12 lead in the fifth set before the Indonesians scored four straight points to snatch the bronze four years ago, has a gut feeling that it could be their time to finally reach the podium since the country’s bronze finish in 2005.
“This time feeling I really feel we’ll be able to get [a medal],” Paat said in Filipino.
“There’s this feeling you get that you feel like you can predict that this time, we’ll be able to get a medal. We really to stick to our plan and focus on our goal,” she added.
De Brito, whose squad settled for another fourth-place finish in his maiden SEA Games stint in Vietnam last year, is aware of how long the program has been yearning to reclaim a medal and how painful it has been for the past 18 years.
“I watched the SEA Games here in the Philippines. They were just close to getting the medal,” De Brito said. “I (will) put all my force to bring this medal there. But we know it’s hard also.”
Forming a solid national team and having longer preparation has been the most challenging task for the past five SEA Games, said returning playmaker De Guzman, who is also leading the squad composed of Kat Tolentino, Dell Palomata, Gel Cayuna, Glaudine Troncoso, Cherry Nunag, and Bang Pineda, said they made the most of their two-week camp in Osaka, where they battled V.League club Himeji Victorina and college teams in friendly matches.
“We’re doing the best we can to prepare as much as we can because a lot of us came out of PVL late so it took a while for us to jell and we did a lot of that in Japan. We made the most out of the experience,” said the decorated Creamline setter. “It’s a big challenge to get there especially there are more teams playing in the SEA Games and we can’t be complacent whatever team we face. Preparation is number one for that. I’m sure we would have wanted to have longer preparation for this tournament for the SEA Games.
“But everyone is optimistic, everyone is working extra hard and doing extra work. Everyone is ready to contribute to (finally get) this medal,” she added.
The core of Cool Smashers already represented the national team twice last year, giving the country’s best finish of sixth place in the AVC Cup for Women but placing last in the Asean Grand Prix with Valdez missing both tournaments due to dengue.
For first-time SEA Games campaigner Carlos, their experiences and familiarity are big additions to the national team and they also learn from De Brito and other PVL teammates.
“I think for me the familiarity with your teammates is a big deal. You will see there’s no division [within the team], ” said Creamline’s rising star in Filipino. “Everyone’s making an effort o get a long with each other and apply what coach Jorge is teaching us.”
Galanza, who is playing her second straight regional tournament, agreed with Carlos, saying the nationals improved a lot despite having limited time to prepare.
“For two weeks, there’s a big improvement in trying to connect with each other. We’re able to do a lot of combination plays so we’re really grateful for our Japan training camp,” Galanza said.
“I just do my best in following what the coaches need me to do. My goal is for us to get a medal.”
The Philippines open its Group B campaign against host Cambodia on Tuesday, 6 p.m. at Indoor Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.
FIGHT UNTIL THE END
The nationals will be tested right away on Wednesday against the silver medalist Vietnam, before ending the round on the next day against Singapore with the top two teams of each group advancing to the crossover semifinals.
De Brito is not leaving any promise in ending the medal drought as he wants their action to do the talking.
“We don’t promise, we’ll work for it,” the national team coach said. “We will fight until the end.”
Just like the whole Philippine volleyball community, De Guzman is raring to end the years of heartbreaks in the SEA Games in the team’s fifth attempt to make it to the podium.
“Of course, I’m very hungry to get that medal. Everyone in this team has that same goal so it helps that everyone is working towards the same mission, the same goal,” De Guzman said. “I just want to give my very best. Everything that I learned in the past tournaments whether local or international, everything I’ve learned from the past SEA games, Grand Prix and AVC.”
The nationals may have suffered several heartbreaking and frustrating campaigns in the SEA Games but the start setter assures that they will keep on fighting until they bring home a medal and leave everything on the floor for every people of this nation.
“Whoever we face on the court, we will give our whole heart. We’re not just fighting for ourselves, this not for our club teams, we’re carrying the entire country,” de Guzman said. “We’re thinking about Filipinos, from our family members to our teammates, and we’re fighting for them. We’re going to give our all this coming SEA games.”