Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, we will be previewing the different national teams that will see action for the Philippines.
2014 Asian Games performance
2-3 win-loss record, lost to China in the semifinals to finish at fourth place
2018 Asian Games lineup
Mary Ann Antolihao
Cristy Joy Roa
Kaith Ezra Jalandoni
Garnet Agnes Blando
Hailey Cassandra Decker
Skylynne Kopia Ellazar
Danielle Lindsey Gilmore
Reese Miquelle Guevarra
Sierra Arlyna Lange
Chelsea Kaitlyn Suitos
The Blu Girls came tantalizingly close to a podium finish in the 2014 Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea. The team finished fourth with a 2-3 record at the end of the six-team elimination round to qualify for the stepladder medal round. However, the girls lost to China, 0-3, in their semifinal match to finish fourth. That fourth-place finish is the highest thus far for the Philippines in Asian Games softball, beating a fifth-place finish in the 2010 Guangzhou Games.
After Incheon, ASAPHIL, the local NSA of the sport, embarked on a program to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The program was presented to then-Philippine Olympic Committee president Peping Cojuangco and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez in late 2016. Last year, the team conducted tryouts in the United States for Fil-American players and eventually signed up 11 of them to complement the 15-woman roster of homegrown talents. With this 36-strong lineup, the Blu Girls participated in the 2017 World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma and the Canada Cup Softball Championships.
"In both tournaments, we beat higher-ranked teams Canada, Australia, Mexico, China and Chinese Taipei," said Francis "Kiko" Diaz, the team's assistant coach. Nine of the 11 Fil-Ams joined the team for Asian Championships held in December in Taiwan. The girls beat higher-ranked teams China and host Chinese Taipei in the stepladder playoff format before losing to Olympic champion Japan in the final. The second-place finish earned them a ticket to the Asian Games as well as to the World Softball Championships scheduled for August 2 to 12 in Chiba, Japan which will also serve as an Olympic qualifier.
Despite being one of the earliest Philippine teams to qualify for the 2018 Asiad, the Blu Girls' preparations haven't been without challenges, according to Diaz.
"It's really the time that the team spent playing together that remains our biggest challenge," he explained. "Originally, the team should have joined again the World Cup of Softball and Canada Cup this July 2018 as preparatory tournaments for both the World and Asian Games, but finances prevented us from doing so."
Additionally, Diaz said that five of the original 11 Fil-Ams begged off for various reasons. The six who remained were flown over to train with rest of the pool here. The recent spate of monsoon rains has also interrupted their training schedule.
Prognosis for Jakarta
Aside from the Philippines, six other countries - Japan, Chinese Taipei, China, Korea, Hong Kong and Indonesia - will be joining the softball competition, which is scheduled for August 19-24 in Jakarta. Looking at the current world rankings, Diaz says the Blu Girls would be seeded fourth.
"Based from the world rankings released by WSBC, Japan (1) Taiwan (5) and China (9) are still the teams to beat," he said. "We are ranked 14th. But with the success we had in our last three international tournaments, a podium finish is really doable for us. But we realize that this is still a very difficult feat."