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Breaking ground, gaining territory

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The Philippine Women’s National Touch Football Team’s Journey to the World Cup

“I hate it when you’re tired!” Steve Dodd, Head Coach of the Philippine Women’s National Touch Football Team, tells his players on a hot Saturday morning. He is scolding them for wilting in the 36 degree summer sun. “Don’t be tired, even if you’re tired,” are his instructions. Some of the players admit Coach Doddy, as he is called, is tough; Late to practice the first time, and you get a warning. Late to practice a second time, and you get another. Be late a third time, however, and he will cut you from the team. He is strict, but within reason, and there is an easy rapport with the players and the 44 year-old Englishman who calls the Philippines his adoptive home. “Look good always,” are his last words for the huddle as practice resumes.

It is a week before the Philippine Pythons leave for the World Cup in Australia, and the players, from the youngest to the oldest, are both nervous and excited. As they should. In only the group stage of the tournament, the Pythons will be going up against 2nd ranked New Zealand, 9th ranked France, and unseeded Samoa. Rugby is a popular sport in a number of countries, but it is hardly a familiar sport to Filipinos. Fewer still are Filipinos who are familiar with its limited-contact variant touch football or touch rugby, or to its World Cup, the highest-level of international competition of the sport, which this motley team will be competing in. How the team will fair is the question on the minds of the coaches and the 16 players who make up the squad.

Asked on the team’s strengths, multi-sport national athlete Cassie Umali says the team has youth. “We are a young team compared to all the other teams that have been playing for the Touch World Cup, but we [can] hold our ground,” she says.

Coach Doddy similarly reflects on his team’s limited experience, “I think we’re a disciplined side. We may not have as many tactical plays as other teams, but we have a few, and we’re very well-drilled in them.”

“When we play well it’s due to our organization,” he adds.

Steve Dodds - don't look tired

The swelling excitement for the squad’s upcoming international debut is due in large part to the fact that this is the first-ever Philippine women’s national team that’s going to compete at a world cup-level tournament. Umali, 29, admits she may not have the privilege to do so with her other team, the national team for rugby, the Lady Volcanoes.

“It’s different playing at [the World Cup] level. I know with the Volcanoes, I know I’m never ever going to the World Cup. The men’s team were able to go to the Rugby 7’s World Cup, but for the girls, for us to ever reach that level we would have to beat China, Japan, and Hong Kong. But before you get to China and Japan, you have to beat Thailand and Sri Lanka [first].”

For context, the Lady Volcanoes’ best rugby 7’s record against the teams she mentioned was a 5-17 loss to Sri Lanka in 2013, and their worst loss was a 0-57 finish against Hong Kong in the same year. “So for us to play the World Cup for touch… iba talaga (it’s different),” shares Umali, 29, who also plays American football, and Ultimate.

Cassie Umali x Charity Orteza

Despite the honor of being the “first-ever”, 23 year old Shine Santos, another player who is a graduating student at University of the Philippines Diliman, admits that she is nervous. The sense of history is not lost, but at the same time it is perturbed by the thought of the impending competition. “It’s the first time the Philippines will be playing in the World Cup. We don’t really know what to expect,” says Santos. She repeats the phrase “I’m so nervous!” several times during the interview.

Shine Santos

A few weeks ago this squad went up against neighboring Singapore in a couple of friendlies.

“When we played Singapore, it was a great experience seeing that whole new level of touch played,” says Kayla Uytengsu, the youngest player on this squad at age 15.“When we play against New Zealand, we’ll see even more,” she adds.

The Pythons’ goal for the World Cup is to finish 2nd in Asia, just behind Singapore. In their friendlies, the squad lost to Singapore with scorelines of 0-8 and 0-15. Going up against the highly-ranked team was a marked improvement for the Pythons, but still, Singapore is only ranked 3rd in the world. They’ll face an even tougher test in the World Cup; going against New Zealand on their third game. The New Zealand touch team is second-best only to world champions Australia.

Kayla Utengsu 2

“We’re very realistic about our chances against the top teams like Australia or New Zealand,” says Craig Wislang, 36, the Pythons’ Co-Head Coach and a offensive play specialist.

Wislang, who has played rugby all his life, knows what he’s talking about. He too knows all too well how seriously Kiwis take their sport, as he hails from New Zealand himself.

As a kid growing up [in New Zealand] playing rugby, the All-Blacks [the men’s national rugby team of New Zealand were] sort of our idols,” he shares of his home team renowned for their rugby achievements and their well-known and fearsome Haka. “If I was a player, I’d want to play the best team in the world, and if I’m not playing for New Zealand, I’d love to play [against] them,” says Wislang.

Craig Wislang 2

For his part, Wislang will be fulfilling a part of his childhood dream, albeit coaching and lining up at the start of the game shaking hands opposite his compatriots. For the girls on this squad, however, they will be living out a scenario they never thought was possible coming into the sport.

Umali had her start as a rugby player before she turned to touch. Other girls on this team, like Umali’s fellow Lady Volcano, Nikki Lira, had her turn at touch before she tried full-contact rugby. Uytengsu, meanwhile, had her start at the sport when she was 11 years-old, while Santos took the sport up in college simply as a means to stay fit and active.

Three years ago, the dream for a national team for touch football came about in the handful of teams that make up the small touch football community in the Philippines. Touch Football Pilipinas, the sport’s governing body in the country, has done well to field in this women’s team and a mixed team mostly comprised of players active in Australia for the World Cup. This is their triumph as well.

Nikki Lira or Ysabel Ayala

“The commitment all these girls have shown has been fantastic,” beams Head Coach Dodd, while his players are running back and forth the pitch.

“I give up some time with my family, but the commitment that these girls have shown has been absolutely incredible,” he adds.

Kat Sicat, 20, took a leave of absence from the University of Pennsylvania. Rodielita Dublin, 29, similarly took a break from law school at San Beda, and some of the other girls on the squad took time away from their careers to make this run to the World Cup a reality.

The catchphrase of the upcoming competition is the “Thrill of a Lifetime,” and it more than aptly describes the vastly different routes these individuals had to go through in order to reach Coffs Harbor, Australia as one team. Sport achieves different things for different people, but competition is all the same: seeing how you measure when the odds are against you.

“Taking the touch” in the game’s parlance means conceding a turn at the ball to get to a strategic point to move forward. This year, the Philippine Women’s National Touch Football Team are doing their bit. They are breaking ground, the first women’s national team to compete at a world cup, and gaining territory into summits unknown.

Team 1

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AU

Impervious Lady Chiefs stay perfect after sweep of Lady Pirates

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The Arellano University Lady Chiefs extended their winning streak to 17 dating back to last season, after clobbering the Lyceum of the Philippines Lady Pirates, 25-16, 25-17, 25-11, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The defending champions were unrelenting with four Lady Chiefs scoring in double-digits with rookie Necole Ebuen powering in 11 points. Third-year open hitter Regine Arocha and Arellano’s middle blockers Mary Anne Esguerra and Andrea Marzan each provided 10 markers.

Conversely, no Lady Pirate managed to score in double-figures.

“Maganda naman talaga ang nilalaro ng mga bata. Lahat kasi kami determinado na makakuha ulet ng championship. Alam nila (Lady Chiefs) na kailangan pataas nang pataas ang ginagalaw namin,” said Arellano head coach Obet Javier.

The Lady Chiefs also limited their errors to a season-best 16 while the Lady Pirates surrendered 24 miscues.

The Lady Chiefs look for their sixth win of the season when they face the red-hot University of Perpetual Help System DALTA (4-1) on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Christine Miralles and Monica Sevilla each supplied the struggling Lyceum with eight point apiece.

The Lady Pirates (1-4) take on the undefeated San Beda College (4-0) on Wednesday also at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Scores

AU (3) – Ebuen 11, Arocha 10, Esguerra 10, Marzan 10, Prado 3, Ramirez 3, Liu 2, Balanoba 1, Donato 1, Verutiao 0, Buemia (L), Flores (L)

LPU (0) – Miralles 8, Sevilla 8, Juanilla 7, Patio 4, Genova 1, Romanban 0, Bongabong 0, Marcella (L)

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Basketball

Late whistle costs San Beda against Sousse to fall to 0-2

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23 for 2023 cadet Robert Bolick is averaging 27.5 points per game in the tournament

After struggling to close out the UAE National Team in their opener last Friday, the San Beda College Red Lions figured in a late judgment call that did not fall into their favor, Saturday at the Shabab Al Ahli Club in Dubai. Due to this, the defending NCAA Champions lost to Tuniasian club team Sousse, 78-79.

With the loss, the Red Lions fell to a 0-2 hole in the 29th Dubai Basketball Championship. But the record does not reflect how the Filipinos played.

Robert Bolick, who scored 28 points against the UAE National Team, led the charge for San Beda in their second outing had 27 points. Fellow 23 for 2023 cadet Javee Mocon added 11 points and seven rebounds.

Sousse, the second-best club team in Tunisia and boasts four national team players and an American import, led by as much as 10 points, 70-60 in the final frame.

Fired-up by the Filipinos who stormed the venue, the Red Lions answered right back with an 18-8 run capped by a booming Bolick triple with six ticks left to gain a 78-76 lead.

However, a foul was called on a Red Lion on a three-point attempt by a Sousse player. He calmly sank all three free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining to seal the win.

Donald Tankoua had eight points and 13 rebounds as he was saddled with foul trouble all throughout the game.

The Tunisian club team was paced by Radzhouane Slimane with 18 points while Ibrahim Nadarri and Joshua Cassady had 13 markers each.

San Beda will have a day break before taking on Moroccan club team Al Sale on Monday, January 22.

The Scores:

San Beda 78 – Bolick 27, Mocon 11, Tankoua 8, Noah 8, Toba 6, Soberano 6, Prebitero 4, Tongco 4, Bahio 2, Carino 2, Oftana 0, Adamos 0.

Sousse 79 – Slimane 18, Naddari 13, Cassady 13, Mouhli 11, Knioua 9, Toumi 8, Monastiri 4, Gaddour 3.

Quarterscores: 23-17, 36-39, 57-62, 78-79.

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JRU

Perpetual overpowers JRU to keep pace of Final Four

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Strutting their decisive height and power advantage, the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Lady Altas slammed the Jose Rizal University Lady Bombers, 25-21, 22-25, 25-14, 25-21, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Lady Altas were still heavy-handed with their errors, surrendering 35 miscues, including 12 in the second set, the only frame they lost.

The Las Piñas-based program, however, kept a scorching offensive pace, bombarding the Lady Bombers with six blocks and 12 aces. JRU had just five points combined crom those categories.

“Mataas pa talaga ‘yung tendency ng mga bata mamigay ng mga puntos. Sabi ko nga hindi kami mananalo kung tutulungan pa namin ‘yung kalaban maka-score,” rued Perpetual head coach Michael Cariño.

“Pero, unti-unte namang gumaganda ‘yung galaw ng mga bata. Lahat naman ng pagkukulang nila, tinatrabaho namin para maayos sa ensayo,” the champion mentor added.

Perpetual’s six-foot-three middle blocker Lourdes Clemente towered over the Lady Bombers with a season-high 19 points which included 14 attacks, two blocks, and three aces. Winger Cindy Imbo added 15 points.

The Lady Altas (4-1) take on the undefeated defending champs Arellano University (5-0) on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Rookie Dolly Versoza paced the Lady Bombers with a game-high 21 points while captain Shola Alvarez managed 15.

The Lady Bombers (2-3) face the College of Saint Benilde (3-1) on Wednesday also at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Scores

UPHSD (3) – Clemente 19, Imbo 15, Sangalang 8, Llorente 7, Tripoli 7, Gual 6, Versoza 2, Umandal 1, Estanislao 0, Medalla (L)

JRU (1) – Versoza 21, Alvarez 15, Ebuenga 5, Montojo 2, Rivera 2, Sibangan 1, Bodiongan 0, Macaraya (L)

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Basketball

Marc Pingris wants Rafi Reavis to break Robert Jaworski’s record

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Marc Pingris was all praises for veteran Rafi Reavis Saturday night, as the 40-year-old center made his presence felt in the Magnolia Hotshots’ 97-91 victory — their third straight win — over Phoenix Fuel Masters at the Cuneta Astrodome.

The six-foot-nine Reavis finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks — a performance perfectly punctuated by a follow-up of a Paul Lee miss with 12.5 seconds left to play that knocked out the Fuel Masters for good.

“Papasalamat ako kay Rafi na talagang kababalik lang niya pero binigay niya talaga lahat,” said Pingris after the bout, as Saturday night was just Reavis’ second outing in the 2018 Philippine Cup after recovering from a hip injury.

“Nag-usap nga kami kanina e, hindi pa siya 100 percent. So bukas, ang sabi niya babalik daw siya sa gym dahil gusto niya ibalik yung lakas ng legs dahil wala pa daw,” added the 36-year-old, who also suffered a hip injury last season.

Reavis has been playing in the league for 16 years. Seeing the work he has put in, Pingris, who finished the game with 17 rebounds, four assists, four points and two blocks, believes that the 10-time PBA champion can play for 10 more years — at least.

“You know naman Rafi eh, katulad ko rin yan eh – rebound and depensa. At tsaka sobrang vocal siya sa team eh,” beamed Pingris, who himself is a 14-year veteran. “Walang siyang inaano, talagang sinasabihan niya kung sino yung mga nagmi-mistake, kung paano kami mag-adjust, so nakikinig naman lahat sa kanya.

“Talagang nandun yung respeto namin kay Rafi.”

And if Reavis stays healthy for the next decade, Pingris wants Reavis to exceed Jaworki’s 958 games played — third most all time.

“Nasa kanya yun, basta kaya mo ba eh. As a player, kung masipag ka naman at may disiplina sa sarili mo, kaya niya yun.”

Still, Reavis has a lot of catching up to do.

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