The Philippine women's volleyball team began its Asian Games journey with a straight-sets loss to Southeast Asian powerhouse Thailand, but it was a decent start for a team that took 36 years to return to the quadrennial meet.
The Philippines knew that Thailand, which won the bronze in the 2014 edition of the Asian Games, would be hard to beat.
The Filipinas put up a fight and mounted as much as a seven-point lead in the first frame before collapsing down the stretch. They failed to sustain their energy and eventually bowed out, 23-25, 12-25, 15-25.
"It's a good experience for us because the players felt how it was to play against a strong opponent like Thailand," head coach Shaq delos Santos said. "We're still in the process of forming this team and hopefully, as we continue here, we'll have better performances."
Staying composed throughout the game was one of the most important lessons that the Philippine team learned from its recent training in Japan. Unfortunately, the players were not able to apply it in their opening loss.
"In the first set, the team's composure was good. Everybody showed enthusiasm and good disposition," said skipper Aby Maraño. "Now, what we need to do is learn how to sustain that kind of energy and concentration. We tend to go back to our bad habits so we just really need to continue practicing."
While happy with their overall performance, Delos Santos also rued the players' stiff movements that led to their first-set meltdown.
"I think in the endgame, we need to push harder and continue to be all-out," the coach said. "I told them we just need to be composed. We need to relax and execute well."
Alyssa Valdez, who spearheaded the charge with seven points, pointed to the team's inexperience as the major cause of their downfall.
"Definitely, it was the lack of experience," she said, while commending the Thais' familiarity with one another. "When Thailand fielded in their experienced players, they already knew what to do. Hopefully, we'll also reach that point when the Philippine volleyball team gets more exposure."
"Of course, foreign teams have been doing this for a long time," added Maraño. "We're still new to this and we only spent a few weeks training in Japan, but we just need to be patient and we need to trust each other."
Thailand also swept the Philippines when they clashed in the semifinals of the Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games last year. But the Thais were quick to note that the Filipinos performed better here in the Asiad.
"The Philippine team really improved," Thai coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul said after the game.
"The Philippines is very good, better than before," echoed Thai captain and veteran Pleumjit Thinkaow, who showcased her trademark quick hits in the win.
It's still a long way to go for the Philippines but keeping pace with Thailand, at least for one set, was still a feat that the team can build on.
"It's always good news for us when we go against Thailand because they are veterans in international competitions," said Maraño. "They are very knowledgeable in volleyball and we learned a lot after competing with them. Hopefully, we can bring these lessons to our next games."
"It was a good start," said Valdez. "It was challenging but we got inspired to continue playing here in the Asian Games. Whatever happens, we will continue this fight."