SUBIC—Sisi Rondina and Jovelyn Gonzaga and Gen Eslapor and Dij Rodriguez disposed of their respective foes from Japan on Saturday to guarantee the Philippines at least a bronze medal in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Futures at the Subic Bay Sand Court.
Rondina, considered as the face of Philippine beach volleyball, and her partner for two weeks Gonzaga sent home Ericka Habaguchi and Saki Maruyama, 18-21, 21-12, 15-7, in a quarterfinal match played under a glaring sun and before an enthusiastic crowd to advance to Sunday morning’s semifinals.
Eslapor and Rodriguez then took the court then under overcast skies and similarly flashed inspired form in beating Ren Matsumoto and Non Matsumoto, 21-16, 21-18, to earn their own ticket to the semifinals.
That meant two possibilities for the Filipina pairs at the close of action on Sunday in the event organized by the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF).
First, an all-Filipino final for a 1-2 podium finish looms if Rondina and Gonzaga beat Israel’s Yahli Ashush and Anita Dave and Eslapor and Rodriguez defeat another Japanese tandem Miyu Sakamoto and Mayu Sawame in the semifinals.
If they don’t, they square off in the battle for bronze set early afternoon Sunday.
Both ways, the Philippines is assured of the podium and the best finish ever in a prestigious international beach volleyball tournament.
“Thank you Sisi,” were Gonzaga’s first words and hugged Rondina tightly during their mixed zone interview moments after the match.
Gonzaga had her shades on but the tears flowing down her cheeks gave her emotions away.
Rondina responded with a playful tap on the cheeks of her partner for only two weeks.
“I’m really motivated and inspired by Sisi [Rondina] in the second set after struggling in the first set,” Gonzaga said. “She gave me confidence and she trusted me so I stepped up and finally made some key plays.”
It was only two weeks ago when Gonzaga was tapped to replace Bernadeth Pons, who has yet to fully recover from a shoulder injury. The Rondina-Pons tandem won back-to-back bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Games.
PNVF president Ramon “Tats” Suzara was ecstatic over the twin victories.
“I salute the girls for playing tough and they didn’t disappoint the crowd,” Suzara said. “This is a great achievement so far, we are very, very happy.”
Noted Brazilian Joao Luciano Kioday, who joined the national team only 10 days before the tournament, was as impressed on the Filipinas’ performance.
“They figured out ways to win and they didn’t stop despite a bad start,” Kioday said.
Rondina and Gonzaga groped for form as the veteran Habaguchi—still agile and skillful at 41—flashed forms that made her play for Japan at the Incheon 2014 Asian Games and kept the crowd mum for the moment.
But the Filipinas found their court smarts in the second set and played a tactical game to cruise to 19-10 before wrapping up the match with well-placed set shots.
The decider was an all Rondina-Gonzaga show with the Japanese falling to several forced errors.
“We adjusted our plays in the second set because we couldn’t catch Habaguchi and she’s really good,” Rondina said. “I was so intimidated earlier, but our determination empowered us to win.”
Israelis Ashush and Dave eliminated Czech Republic’s Valerie Dvronikova and Anna Pospisilova, 21-12, 18-21, 7-5, while Sakamoto and Sawame defeated Thailand’s Mungkhon Salinda and Bunongkhun Jidapa, 27-25, 14-21, 15-13, in the quarterfinals.
The Rondina-Gonzaga vs Ashush-Dave semifinal is set at 8 a.m. Sunday while the Eslapor-Rodriguez vs Dvronikova-Pospisilova duel follows at 9 a.m. The final is at 1:30 p.m.