With ‘good lineup, deep bench,’ PH spikers confident heading into SEA Games

MANILA, Philippines–Alyssa Valdez is amazed at the pace the Philippine women’s national volleyball team has been able to mesh itself into a unified mix of variegated pieces in a short time.

Team captain Aby Marano is likewise upbeat with the fusion of top volleyball celebrities in the country, drawing out a satisfactory feel for a medal run in the coming 31st Southeast Asian Games.

“We have a good lineup and there’s a strong chance that we can get the gold,’’ said middle blocker Jaja Santiago.

A medal in the SEA Games has become a hard-to-find commodity for the PH women spikers since Valdez, Marano and Santiago first jumped into national action in the 2015 Singapore edition of the 11-nation Games.

The depth of their seasoned roster and the younger generation of rivals in the Vietnam SEA Games, however, could spell a difference for the team bolstered by Premier Volleyball League superstars.

`”I’ve come to realize that we have a deep bench and anybody from the team can readily perform as we saw in our tuneup matches in Brazil,’’ said Marano, who, along with Valdez, is wearing the national colors for the fourth consecutive version of the SEA Games.

Setters Kyle Negrito and Iris Tolenada, open spikers Jema Galanza and Ces Molina, and opposite hitters Mylene Paat and Kat Tolentino have blended seamlessly since the two-week training camp in Barueri, Brazil where they won four of their five tuneup games against Brazilian club teams.

Middle blockers Ria Meneses, Dell Palomata and Majoy Baron had no wasted efforts whenever they stepped on the floor while liberos Dawn Macandili and Kath Arado were superb in protecting the back row of their rotation.

“Our team has been really adapting well and it’s been happening so fast that we are able to apply what the coaches have been teaching us,’’ said Valdez.

The national women’s volleyball team huddles after a training session in Brazil. —JUNE NAVARRO

Head coach Jorge Edson Souza de Brito has been subjecting the Filipino women in a harsh environment every time they put on their training gears, simulating the possible conditions on the floor in the SEA Games against heavyweights Vietnam and perennial champion Thailand.

“The opponents will be tough in the SEA Games. Most of the countries have changed their lineups, replacing them with younger players. We all know they are also playing as imports in other countries, so it’s going to be an interesting and exciting matchup,’’ said Valdez.

De Brito, part of Brazil’s gold-winning men’s team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is ably assisted by coaches Odjie Mamon, Grace Antigua, Raffy Mosuela, Tina Salak and therapist Grace Gomez in mapping out a triumphant master plan for the team.

The PH spikers are set to leave for Hanoi on May 10, three days prior to opening their campaign against Malaysia before taking on defending champs Thailand on May 14. After a two-day rest, the Filipino women face Indonesia on May 17 and tackle host Vietnam on May 19.

The battle for the bronze is set May 21 and the golden finale has been scheduled May 22.

“We have been steadily building up the connections, those missing things that we need to address and I think we can achieve these in time for the SEA Games,’’ said Santiago on her third SEA Games after skipping the 2019 edition in Manila.

Team Philippines has yet to bring home a medal from women’s volley since 2005 in Manila while the gold medal has become elusive since the victorious 1993 women’s team in Singapore.

“We are managing the pressure because we don’t want to be tight. It could destroy the positive energy that we have gained from training in Brazil,’’ said Marano.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the SEA Games, but we’re going there with a positive mindset, lots of energy and bringing all the things we’ve learned from the camp,’’ added Marano.

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