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Heart-Strong Philippines falls short against towering Iran



Even with an injured right thumb, Philippines team captain Alyssa Valdez showed tremendous heart as she scored a game-high 31 points. However, Iran’s superior length and chemistry shone through in the latter sets as the Iranians took the match in four tight frames, 25-22, 25-22, 19-25, 25-20 in the AVC U23 tournament held at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

The Filipinas matched Iran point-for-point in the attacking department, but their 40 errors proved too costly given the fact that Iran only coughed up 27. The Philippines struggled with the new net error rule that states players can’t touch any part of the net, a huge change as the previous rule only penalized touching the tape of the net. The Philippines cobbled together stretches of brilliant volleyball early in sets, but Iran showed that they had better composure late in the game as they tightened up their sloppy play and pulled crucial points from their outside hitters.

Gusto ng mga bata lumaban ng buong puso. Biruin mo ilang linggo lang kami nagprepare, pero muntik na kami manalo,” said Philippines head coach Roger Gorayeb.

Valdez took a nasty fall after attempting to block Chamlanian Neda’s attack early in the second. The Batangueña took quite a while to get up, but she powered through the injury for the entire match, only showing signs of pain after block attempts and digs. Valdez caught an epic second wind in the third set as she sparked the run that allowed her team to steal the set with three consecutive aces, which resulted in cheers that almost blew the roof off the arena. Alyssa finished the match with six aces.

Much was said about Iran’s imposing height in the build up to today’s match but the Philippines’ Jaja Santiago stood as the tallest player on the court, coming in at a gargantuan 196 cm. Santiago made the most of her height, as she easily converted any good set Jia Morado threw at her, finishing with 13 points.

The Philippines’ serving proved to be at a world-class level as Valdez, Santiago, and Gretchel Soltones gave the Iranian back row fits in trying to pass off their serves. They produced 10 aces but still had a few serves that hit the net.

The National team’s weakness turned out to be the other middle blocker spot and the opposite hitter position. Coach Roger shuffled through Risa Sato and Bea De Leon for the middle blocker slot, but both had trouble converting quicks against Iran’s steady floor and net defense. Jhoana Maraginot started in the opposite hitter spot but was then replaced by the shorter Ella De Jesus as the former struggled to produce points and was shaky in the back row.

The pessimism about the Philippines place in international volleyball should be more than eradicated now, given the fight our players put up against a team that is taller and has been together 10 times longer than them. Coach Roger Gorayeb saw incredible potential in his team and stated that had everyone eligible been allowed to play, the Philippines might have won the match.

“Had we had Dindin, we would have had another 6-footer to pair with Jaja. After a match like this, we can see that we aren’t there yet in terms of international competitiveness, but we aren’t far,” Gorayeb stated. “Maybe in eight to ten years, malakas na tayo. Wag lang magbago ‘yung participation ng mga bata sa team saka sana sumali na lahat. Iba talaga maglaro sa national team. Buong bansa cheerleader mo.”

The Pinays now need to win tomorrow’s tiff with Kazakhstan for a shot at advancing to the Top 8. Should they lose, they will still participate in a classification to determine the bottom three of the tournament.

The Scores

IRI (3) – Saberi 16, Kadkhoda 14, Chamlanian 8, Mona 7, Mina 5, Samaneh 2, Tamineh 1, Negin 1 Motaghiyan (L)

PHI (1) – Valdez 31, Santiago 13, Soltones 8, Sato 4, Morado 2, Maraginot 2, De Jesus 1, De Leon 1, Agno (L)


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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Rose Vargas all set for UAAP return after four-season absence



In an unprecedented move, hard-hitting Far Eastern University spiker Rose Vargas will return to finish her UAAP career when Season 80 kicks off on February 3 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

Vargas last played for the Lady Tamaraws in Season 75. With a year of eligibility left, Vargas left the Morayta-based program to focus on her academics and pursue a career in the semi-pro ranks.

Five years since her last UAAP game, Vargas says that she did not hesitate when FEU officials asked if she wanted to return to play out her final year of eligibility.

During her time in the V-League, she played for the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, the Bureau of Custom Transformers, and, most recently, the Creamline Cool Smashers.

“‘Yung pag-babalik naman dito (FEU) is hindi ko naman pinag-isipan matagal or nag-dalawang isip ako,” said the Season 74 Best Scorer. “Noong tinanong lang sa akin kung gusto ko daw bumalik, ang sagot ko lang, oo.

“Kasi gusto kong makatulong, and gusto kong makuha ‘yung championship namin na matagal ng hindi nakukuha ng FEU.”

Vargas adds to an already solid FEU core which includes graduating captain Bernadeth Pons, Toni Rose Basas, and Jerrili Malabanan.

The last time Vargas suited up for FEU, she was the main piece to a core that included Mari Toni Basas — Toni Rose’s older sister, a young Remy Palma, Gyzelle Sy, and Tin Agno.

Vargas now sees herself as more of a complimentary piece, the hardened veteran looking to guide FEU’s younger guns in a season where much if expected of them.

“Ngayon, nadagdagan siguro yung maturity and ko, pagiging veteran daw, sabi, na pwede ko mai-share din sa mga bata ‘yun, as a leader, as an ate,” added Vargas.

“Nako-contribute ko kung anong knowledge ang natutunan ko.”

League insiders are confident that Vargas, who turned 25-year-old on December 12 last year, will be declared eligible to play in Season 80. Although the UAAP is yet to have their eligibility meeting this week, a source closely monitoring the situation expressed confidence that Vargas will pass the league’s eligibility rules.

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23 for 2023 cadet CJ Perez honored to help out Gilas



Having had the chance to represent the Philippines in FIBA-sanctioned cagefests such the Asia Challenge Cup and the 3X3 All-Stars back in 2016, Lyceum Pirates star CJ Perez is no stranger to the international stage.

But the 24-year-old do-it-all swingman admits that he still gets overwhelmed whenever he sees his seniors — the stars and pillars of the program — in the team. “Nasusurprise [pa rin] ako,” he said. “Mga professionals eh.

“Na-istarstruck pa rin ako sa kanila.”

Perez said so when he finally made his return within Gilas’ realms last Monday night. The last time he was with the National Team was in August 2016, when the SBP built an amateur-laden batch of Gilas cagers that served as the transition from the 2016 Olympic Qualifiers squad to the 2017 SEABA team.

“Sobrang grateful ako (sa invitation),” said the talented six-foot-two guard, after practice at the Meralco Gym.

The reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player is back in the fold for Gilas as his name, along with young, up-and-coming stars, was included in the 23 for 2023 pool — a list of cagers projected to be the contingent for the Manila-hosted World Cup.

“Iniisip ko yun (FIBA World Cup 2023) simula magtawag sila ng practice. Actually nandoon na yung utak ko eh,” the Lyceum Pirate ace bared. “Kailangan ko lang mag work hard pa para makapasok dun sa lineup na yun, kahit malayo pa.

“It’s an honor para ma-represent yung country.”

Unlike in 2016, Perez graced the court and took part in drills with the veterans such as Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, among others. With those type of players around him, he feels that the lessons he can get will be limitless.

“Oo sobra. Kahit kanino naman (matututo ka talaga),” Perez shared. “(At tsaka) Dito parang more on sa mental. ‘Di na iniisip yung conditioning kasi may ibang teams naman sila so about sa mental toughness [talaga].”

For now, the 23 for 2023 cadets are already working out not just for familiarity, but also to help the seniors in preparing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers this February.

“Sobrang happy and grateful na nakakatulong ako sa kanila kahit sa simpleng practice lang.”

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Blistering Mikey Williams takes home Heritage Import of the Week honor



Photo from ASEAN Basketball League

The resurgent Saigon Heat have been the thorn to topflight clubs teams Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club and Nanhai Kung Fu, handing both squads their first losses in the eighth season of the ASEAN Basketball League. The Heat would not have done it without Filipino-American import Mikey Williams.

Williams, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Cal State Fullerton, dropped 39 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists in Saigon’s 121-115 overtime win over Hong Kong.

The former NBA G-Leaguer followed it up with a sensational 24-point, five-rebound, and seven-assist outing in their 96-93 win over Kung Fu.

Overall, the 26-year-old guard averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.0 steals to edge out fellow Filipino AJ Mandani of the Singapore Slingers for the weekly award.

For the Local Player of the Week, two Alab Pilipinas stalwarts were the runners-up for the crown.

Reigning local Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and his floor general Josh Urbiztondo had stellar weeks that earned them honorable mentions.

Parks averaged 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists for the week that saw Alab lose to the Slingers at home last Wednesday before bouncing back on the road against the Mono Vampire last Sunday.

Urbiztondo, on the other hand, had norms of 14.5 points on a hot 9-for-17 clip from downtown.

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Brazilian football legend Zico to visit Manila



Contributed photos

One of the best to ever play the Beautiful Game is coming to the Philippines. Zico, who electrified the footballing world in the ’70s and ’80s, is slated to visit Manila on the weekend of January 27.

The Brazilian, whose real name is Arthur Antunes Coimbra, is considered one of the best footballers in the world during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Zico starred for the Brazilian national team, scoring 48 goals in 71 appearances for the Selecao. In 1999, the attacking midfielder came 8th in the FIFA Player of the Century grand jury vote, and in 2004 was named in FIFA’s list of the world’s greatest living players.

Zico played for legendary Brazilian club Flamengo and also for the Italian Serie A team Udinese. He finished his playing career suiting up for Kashima Antlers in the J-League, the top tier of Japanese football, leading them to an unlikely runner-up finish.

The 64-year-old also had a successful managerial career, leading Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Greek team Olympiacos, and CSKA Moscow to titles. Zico was also in charge of the Japanese national team when they won the AFC Asian Cup in 2004. Because of that accomplishment, Zico is one of the most beloved football figures in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Seven Seas Properties, a company that promotes Philippine real estate and Philippine stocks in the Japanese market, is bringing the football icon here.

“We are delighted to welcome Zico to the Philippines. I’m sure he will give a big boost to the growing football scene here,” says Seven Seas Properties President Yukihiro Nishimura.

Zico will attend a CSR event with young footballers from underprivileged communities on Saturday, January 27. The following day, Sunday January 28, he will lead a football clinic for elite young players and coaches in the McKinley Hill stadium in Taguig. Football fans and media are welcome to watch this event, which kicks off at 2:00 pm. Admission is free.

Zico in Manila is also made possible by Otsuka – Solar Philippines, Inter Sports Partners, AgriNurture, and Primex.

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