So here’s a hypothetical situation. Suppose the Southeast Asian Games were to be held in 6 months, and suppose you were the head coach of the women’s volleyball team. Which players deserve a spot in the Philippine team?
Before I enumerate my picks, here’s a photo of the team that competed in the 12th Asian Women’s Club Volleyball Championship in Vietnam. They lost all of their matches.
If I were to choose 12 players, I would make sure that the following players will be recruited. Here’s my starting six:
My choice for main setter is Tina Salak. I heard that she’s been with the team for a long time already. But I picked her as main setter not simply because she’s been the national team’s setter for a long time, but because I believe she is one of the best setters we have in the country. She is effective in not only giving out sets that her hitters like the most but also giving out the sets in a manner that fools the blockers of the opposing team. Her experience surely contributes to this ability. Her height is undoubtedly also an asset because her position requires her to block open hitters who usually receive the most balls.
My main utility player would be Aiza Maizo. Just like Tina Salak, she has the height advantage to block the opponents’ open hitters. She has received a lot of awards from Shakey’s V League and UAAP — Best Attacker, Best Server, Best Blocker and MVP, among them. She’s a power hitter and her quick hits are deadly. She’s a total asset when she’s in the back row as well as she has good floor defense and she has excellent backrow hits. She can set the ball well too so this is definitely a plus.
I would choose Rachel Anne Daquis and Alyssa Valdez as the team’s main open hitters.
Rachel Anne Daquis was the biggest revelation in the 2011 volleyball tournament in Vietnam (not to mention the cameramen seemed to have had liked her as she probably got the most air time). Daquis is a power hitter. But as we all know, volleyball is not just about power. And Daquis knows this. She is an expert in hitting balls off the block. She might have to work on her drop shots and backrow attacks though. But with intense training for 6 months, I’m sure she’ll improve whatever needs to be improved. And one more thing that I like about Daquis is that she always has the swagger. When Daquis is in the backrow, she might have to be replaced by a floor defense specialist.
The open hitter opposite Daquis will have to be Alyssa Valdez. She’s just 18 years old but she plays like a veteran. There has been much hype about this teenager and this hype is definitely warranted. Valdez is a power hitter. But just like Daquis, she’s a smart player too and she knows when to hit the ball off the block and when to just drop it. She has good backrow attacks. And she has a good floor defense too so she doesn’t need to be replaced when she’s in the back.
My middle hitters would have to be Abigail Marano and Jacqueline Alarca.
I’ve always been impressed with Abigail Marano. We already saw the huge potential in her during her first UAAP playing year with DLSU but boy, she improved a lot on her second year. She has turned out to be one of DLSU’s go-to girls. Marano is quick and being quick is an important requirement for middle hitters because they should at least try to go for double blocks. This means that middle hitters must be quick enough to move from one side of the net to the other. Marano also always goes for quick hits even if she won’t be given the ball which is a plus since this fools the opponents’ blockers. Her quick hits and running spikes are excellent as they are but these can still be improved in 6 months. And this girl always has the swagger. She celebrates each point as if there’s no tomorrow. It would be great to see her and Daquis, both brimming with swagger, in a team.
The middle hitter opposite Marano would have to be Jacqueline Alarca. Just like Marano, she has the height and the long arms. She’s quick too and has good block timing. Alarca graduated a few years ago and I don’t know if she’s been playing since graduation but she definitely has to undergo a rigid training to get her back in shape.
My libero would have to be Jen Reyes. The photo below says it all. Reyes is one of the smallest liberos we have seen on Philippine TV but for me, she’s the best in the business. She always goes for the dig and she makes digging look easy. She has an impressive anticipation for the ball, meaning it seems like she knows where the ball is going to land. This is precisely the reason why she was responsible for something like 60% of NU’s reception during her first UAAP playing year.
So far, I have mentioned 7 players already. 5 more.
Let me start with my second libero. I would choose Christine Agno of FEU. Just like Reyes, she is very quick and she has a good anticipation one would always wonder how she manages to come out of nowhere for the digs and receptions. She is a prized recruit of coach Nes Pamilar and it would be good to have her in the national team.
In case Salak is having a bad day, I would take Rhea Dimaculangan off the bench. She’s definitely one of the best in the business. More importantly, having a tall setter such as herself would be a huge advantage as, I have repeatedly been saying, they usually block open hitters.
When Maizo is having a bad day, I would take Michelle Gumabao off the bench. While she has been criticized for being a trash talker, I would consider Gumabao to be one of the best utility players in the country. She’s been named Best Blocker and Best Attacker in the UAAP because of her well-timed blocks and strong attacks from the right side of the court. And speaking about trash talk, well it’s part of the game. It would be good to see her bring this attitude to the national team.
I would also recruit Nerissa Bautista to the team. She’s versatile and can play middle or open. She’s a power hitter but she’s a thinking player as well. When she’s in the back row, she doesn’t need to be replaced by any player as she has good floor defense (beach volleyball surely honed her digging and receiving skills) and she can do backrow attacks as well.
I would also add Mayette Carolino to the team. She’s versatile as she can play hitter and setter. She has good floor defense as well.
There you have it, my dream team:
1. Tina Salak*
2. Aiza Maizo*
3. Rachel Anne Daquis*
4. Alyssa Valdez*
5. Abigail Marano*
6. Jacqueline Alarca*
7. Jen Reyes*
8. Christine Agno
9. Rhea Dimaculangan
10. Michelle Gumabao
11. Nerissa Bautista
12. Mayette Carolino
Those with * after their names are my starting 6 (fine, starting 7).
I would say that the future of Philippine volleyball is not at all bleak as some would claim. In fact, I see it as very bright. Televised tournaments such as Shakey’s V League, UAAP and NCAA have played a big role in introducing once again this game to the Filipinos and we have to thank the organizers for this. We have witnessed the entry of players oozing with potential and we have seen the very same players mature with the game — the likes of Angeli Tabaquero, Charo Soriano, Manilla Santos, Lizlee Gata, and a lot more.
One thing is for sure: if we want to be at par with teams from other countries, our team needs more international exposure. This could mean either joining competitions abroad or holding invitational leagues in the country.
They say that the Philippine team used to rank higher than the Thais. But look at how far the Thai team has gone. They are now rubbing elbows with the world’s best — Brazil, China, USA. And what about our team? What has our national team achieved internationally? I believe our team has the potential to rise up again and be known as a volleyball powerhouse at least in South East Asia. But this won’t happen overnight. We need international exposure. We need funding. We don’t need politics in sports.