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AVC U23 Day 2 Roundup: Japan’s near fall and The Great Wall of China

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Yesterday was an amazing day for volleyball, especially for the Philippines who grabbed a glorious win over Kazakhstan. The Filipinas, however, weren’t the only ones who took care of business as some of Asia’s perennial volleyball powerhouses delivered imposing victories that showed why they are so feared. We run through all the other matches that went down in a day that we’ll remember fondly for years to come.

Match 1: Efficient Korea dominates flat-footed Uzbekistan 25-17, 25-8, 25-7.

In their first match of the tournament, the Koreans had a field day against the lumbering Uzbekistan side. Playing without a Libero, Uzbekistan was incredibly slow to any reception or attack that didn’t fall within arms-length of them, allowing Korea to go 44 for 79 (55%) with their attacks and to throw down 18 aces, tied with Japan for most in a match in the tournament so far.

Uzbekistan, however, showed great promise in blocking as their height bothered Korean attackers but that is really all they’ve been able to do well in their two matches. Their passing and setting were below par, and they were incredibly slow in general. Their pool mates were ahead of the curve in terms of sheer volleyball know-how.

The Koreans are a tall, fundamentally-sound team that should give their Thailand a run for their money in their meeting today. They have dynamite scorers in open hitters, Lee Soyoung and Go Yerim, who both had 18 markers in the victory, and opposite hitter, Kim Miyoun who dropped 10 points. It should be interesting to see if they keep up with the Thais’ faster pace and solid floor and net defense.

Match 3: China towers over India 25-9, 25-13, 25-17

Speaking of tall teams, the Chinese have height to spare in all positions as well as uncanny quickness and court sense. China severely bothered India’s best attacker, Nirmala, limiting the open hitter to just 10 points on a 9 for 40 attacking clip.

Dominating as the win might have seemed evident, it was clear China was saving it’s best players for latter matches. They religiously shuffled their players in and out of the match, thus making it hard to get a feel for their peak performance. But they couldn’t hide their supreme length and athleticism as it seemed everyone on the roster had middle blocker height and all-around volleyball skills. Their attackers easily went over India’s blocks and their quick attacks were especially devastating.

Expect much of the same lineup poker face from China in their match against the smaller, less-skilled Macau. China is ranked first in the FIVB U20 rankings and we might only get to see why by the time they face stiffer competition in the Top 8.

Match 4: Japan escapes feisty Chinese Taipei 24-26, 26-24, 25-23, 25-10

Pinoy Pride aside, this was the best match of the tournament so far. The first three sets was just an endless back-and-forth of cat-quick floor defense and just-as-quick offensive transitions. It was volleyball poetry; the first to blink, loses.

From the onset of the match, it was clear Taipei had a set gameplan to take down the favorite Japan. They knew where Japan liked to attack, and had their players set at the perfect spots to properly work through Japan’s attempts. The Japanese looked flummoxed when Taipei forced them to look for other options. In the first three sets, Japan only had a sizable lead in the first set when they led by four during a good chunk of the set. However, Taipei quickly erased the lead and dragged them into a deuce which Japan lost off two consecutive attack errors.

Taipei did an excellent job in varying their attacks early in the match, but Japan always had a counter and easily got side-outs. Japan slowly made adjustments and managed to only squeak by Taipei late in the third and second set. By the fourth set, Taipei was visibly from having lost two consecutive close sets as their reception and digging eluded them allowing Japan to close out the match with relatove ease.

Japan team captain Muranaga Nao and Mabashi Kaori both topped the match in scoring with 18 points apiece. While Taipei pulled double-digit outings from three of their players as Chen Tzu-Ya and Tseng Wan-Ling both had 11 points while Lee Tzu-Ying contributed 10 markers.

The match was also a perfect example of how pivotal communication is in volleyball, with both teams constantly asserting themselves, even during dead balls. The post-point celebrations were incredibly interesting as well; Japan had their cute everyone-gets-high-tens routine while Taipei opted for blood-curdling, happy screeches.

Japan now tops Pool C while Taipei will most likely drub Maldives in their match today to take the second seed. The Philippines will most likely face both teams in the following classification phase of the tournament.

A few other notes from Day 2:

– When asked about who they saw as threats in the Philippine Team, opposing coaches almost unanimously pointed out “Number 2” first and then gush about “Number 3″‘s height.

– Japanese head coach Abo Kiyoshi, summed up how lucky the National team is to have a crowd like the Filipino’s do. He said that Japan also draws huge volleyball crowds, but the atmosphere the crowd projects are totally different. If you try to YouTube Japanese volleyball club games, you’ll see his point. Japanese crowds aren’t loud cheerers, almost meek to an extent. Pinoys are the total opposite: scream-their-lungs-out types who treat their volleyball players like their local pop stars.

– It would be nice if the arena played pop music from thr countries that are participating. They played a few K-Pop songs during Korea’s warmups and a couple Japanese songs during the Taipei-Japan tiff, why not play Uzbekistan pop songs? It would be that signature hospitable touch we Pinoys are known for.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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