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
The Philippines has not joined the volleyball competition of the Asian Games since the 1982 edition in India, where it garnered a fifth-place finish among six participants.
2018 Asian Games representatives
Outside Hitters: Alyssa Valdez, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Cha Cruz-Behag
Opposite Hitters: Jaja Santiago, Mylene Paat, Kianna Dy
Middle Blockers: Aby Maraño (captain), Majoy Baron, Mika Reyes,
Setters: Kim Fajardo, Jia Morado
Libero: Dawn Macandili
Reserves: Maika Ortiz, Denden Lazaro
Coaches: Shaq delos Santos (head), Kungfu Reyes, Brian Esquibel
It's been 36 years since the Philippines last sent a volleyball contingent to the Asian Games.
In a continuing effort to elevate Philippine volleyball and bring it back in the international map, the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) decided to send representatives to the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. This important milestone comes after the country's return to the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2015 which ended a decade's worth of hiatus.
As part of gearing up for the 2019 SEA Games that the Philippines will be hosting, the LVPI deemed it best to form a pool of national players that will compete in the upcoming Asiad and the Asian Women's Volleyball Cup in Thailand in September.
Ramil de Jesus, architect of the country's 2005 SEA Games bronze-medal finish, was appointed as national coach last April. He held a couple of tryouts before stepping down, which, according to the LVPI, was due to conflict with his other commitments. Shaq delos Santos took over the post in early June.
Delos Santos and his coaching staff selected a 20-woman pool, bannered by skipper Aby Maraño. Outside of the 14 listed for the Asian Games, Rebecca Rivera, CJ Rosario, MJ Phillips, Rhea Dimaculangan, Myla Pablo, and Ces Molina were also named to the pool. Dimaculangan (personal reasons), Pablo (back injury), and Molina (shin injury) later on begged off from participating.
The Philippine team began practicing together in late June. The players also figured in a series of exhibition matches against Philippine Superliga (PSL) squads in the recently concluded Invitational Conference. They flew to Okayama, Japan on August 5 for a two-week training camp, which includes scrimmages with Japanese club team Okayama Seagulls.
Delos Santos put emphasis on learning defense and speed from the Japanese. "If we can adapt Japan's ways, why not?" he said last week before they left the country. "They are known for their defense. Apart from defense, we also want to absorb their speed and the way they play inside the court."
Alyssa Valdez, who was part of the national team that also trained in Japan last year, agreed with her coach. "We're really looking forward to learn a lot from Japanese teams, from defense to offense. Hopefully, we can learn the Japanese's fast techniques, and hopefully, we can apply it in our upcoming games," she said.
Prognosis for Indonesia
There are no medal expectations for the Philippine women's volleyball team in the Asian Games.
Even prior to the formation of the squad, the LVPI had been clear that the main purpose of participating in the Asiad is to gain international exposure. Due to stiff competition in the continental meet, the local volleyball federation set a more realistic goal of eyeing a podium finish in next year's SEA Games instead.
This year's Asian Games will feature 11 women's volleyball teams, topped by last edition's medalists: South Korea (gold), China (silver), and Thailand (bronze). The Philippines is bracketed with Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and Hong Kong in Group A, while the other pool consists of South Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and India.
The Philippines will open its campaign against Thailand on August 19. Their last encounter was in the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, where the Thais swept the Filipinos in the semifinals on their way to the gold. The Philippines, meanwhile, settled for fourth place after bowing down to Vietnam in the bronze medal match.
While chances are slim for the Philippines to advance to the next round, Delos Santos assured that the team will still give its best to represent the flag well.
"This is our first time in 36 years. For us, we'll fight until the end. Definitely, whatever happens, we'll do our best 100 percent," he said, vowing to embrace the pressure that comes with donning the country's tri-colors.
The national coach added that he believes in the team's high potential. "We cannot say yet how they will fare because they came from different teams with different systems, so they have different ways of playing. [But] the players are all flexible and they know how to adjust. We're still far from our goal but we're gradually fixing everything in Japan."
Limited preparation time and lack of international experience are just some of the major obstacles that put the Philippines at a disadvantage compared to regional powerhouses. But what matters now is that the country is taking a step towards the right direction by conducting training camps overseas and joining as many international tournaments as possible. The national volleyball program just needs to receive continuous support and commitment from all stakeholders to become sustainable.
"We keep on saying that it's a learning process for the women's national team. At the end of the day, it's really a long way [to go]," said Valdez. "I think everyone started from there - just keep fighting, win or lose. We're really hoping that whatever the outcome, our countrymen will continue to support so that our women's national team can reach greater heights in the future."