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.
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)