With the Philippines' dominance of the softball competition in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, coach Randy Dizer believes that complacency will be the top opponent of the Blu Girls in their quest for an unprecedented tenth title in the biennial meet.
"Our roster is the strongest possible combination of players in the country now," said the veteran international campaigner. "With all the international exposure, this team is ready."
The Blu Girls, a name given to the Philippine women's softball team after bursting into the international scene by copping the bronze medal in the 1970 Women's World Softball Championship, have been one of the steadiest performers in the country's SEA Games history, besting even their brothers from basketball which once lost the gold medal in 1989.
The Blu Girls emerged victorious in the inaugural tournament in 1979 as well as in 1981 (on home soil), 1987 (in Indonesia), 1991 (again in the Philippines), 1997 (again in Indonesia), 2005 (Philippines), 2007 (Thailand), 2011 (Indonesia) and 2015 (Singapore). In all other editions of the games, softball was not included in the medal sports.
"(The team) is getting stronger (on the) physical and mental (side)," Dizer said. "We are going with 16 local (players) and (Filipino-American infielder) Garie Blando."
Since the influx of Fil-foreigners into the program, the Blu Girls have also had a great amount of technology from the West transferred into their system and Dizer and his staff have painstakingly implemented that into his philosophies and his team concepts.
However, since for a majority of the calendar year these Fil-foreign players reside or study abroad, training as a cohesive unit has been quite a challenge for Dizer.
"That's the challenge for the coaching staff," he said. "We usually do training and attend tournaments (in the United) States for them to be able to play as a team."
With the SEA Games falling right smack in the middle of the semester, Dizer opted to go almost all local with Blando-who is already done with her Kinesiological Studies degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV)-the only non-homegrown. Names that have been synonymous to the program such as Chelsea Suitos, Dani Gilmore, Reese Guevara, Skye Eleazar, Sierra Lange and heavy-hitting Hailey Decker will be missed in the upcoming competition.
However, former Ateneo stalwart Cheska Altomonte will lead the local charge against Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
The feisty catcher is joined by UAAP season 81 MVP Arianne Vallestero, Finals MVP Lyca Basa, former MVP Jennete Rusia, Ezra Jalandoni, Krisha Cantor, Nicole Padasas, Mary Joy Maguad, Angelu Gabriel and Angelie Ursabia of Adamson University, CJ Roa, Celestine Palma and Mary Anne Antolihao of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), the National University's (NU) Shaira Damasing and Elsie de la Torre and ace youth pitcher Royevel Palma.
With a number of youngsters added to the roster for the SEA Games, Dizer is confident that the coaching staff made the right decisions after careful deliberations.
"What we usually do is look at the statistics of the UAAP and the National Open tournament and (find) the players that standout from the rest then invite them to tryout," Dizer explained. "From there, we try to form the best possible combination for our local players that will train the whole year for the team."
Dizer credits the unconditional support from the onset by baseball and softball patron Jean Henri Lhuillier.
"Our program also (leapt forward) because of Jean Henri (Lhuillier)," he proclaimed. "He's been with us all the way. He knows what the team needs because he (also) played the game. He has shelled out from his personal funds just to fuel the program."
Because of Lhuillier's patronage and the growing fan-base among the Filipinos for the Blu Girls, Dizer is personally guaranteeing their tenth title. "We will win the gold," he said.
The Blu Girls open against Singapore on December 2 at The Villages in Clark.