Months before the 30th Southeast Asian Games, the Philippine Women’s National Volleyball team infused its training pool with a healthy blend of talents who have been exposed to international competition. and wunderkinds considered beneficial to the country’s program moving forward.
When Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. unveiled the training pool, the ceiling seemed limitless. But as the regional meet grew closer, the selection process found itself heavily hampered by two decisive factors — commitment and eligibility.
The towering sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat were unable to receive the green light to represent the country from their respective club teams in the Japan V Premier League.
Not long after that, concerns emerged regarding the Philippine passport of Filipino-American setter Alohi Robins-Hardy.
And in between those seismic developments was the withdrawal of five pool members in Jema Galanza, Jerrili Malabanan, Tots Carlos, Celine Domingo, and Gel Cayuna.
In a span of two months, the Philippines lost the services of some of its finest athletes in the volleyball landscape for the multi-nation tournament. But when it seemed that better days were finally ahead for the Nationals, more alarming news came its way with less than month left before the SEA Games.
In a shocking turn of events, Kalei Mau was deemed ineligible to participate in the biennial event. According to LVPI president Joey Romasanta, the 6-foot-2 outside hitter failed to meet the two-year residency required by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).
“Napakalaking kawalan na mawawala si Kalei kasi alam naman natin kung ano ang kaya niyang ibigay sa team. Meron siyang magandang skills, napaka-high quality ng skills na meron siya; plus andoon din ‘yung leadership, ‘yung fire inside the court,” National Team captain Aby Maraño admitted.
“So broken hearted talaga ang feeling na wala si Kalei.“
Having been at the eye of the storm for the past couple of months, the Nationals are undeniably distressed. But they could only accept things the way they are and move forward.
“Siyempre sa amin medyo mabigat sa amin. Habang binubuo namin ito [team] simula ng sinimulan namin, never naman nawawalan ng problema, so kami accept lang kami,” Philippine head coach Shaq Delos Santos said. “Siyempre ang best way na magagawa namin sa team, gagawin namin.”
Maraño them chimed in, saying: “I think malungkot kami, pero alam mo ‘yung kailangan kung may mawawala may pupunan noong nawala, laban pa rin. Hindi pwedeng wala na si Kalei, wala na. Hindi pwedeng ganoon.
“Masama ang loob namin na hindi siya makakalaro pero nandoon ang feeling na kailangan may mag-step up kami para sa kanya.
She then continued, “Kahit papaano positive pa rin kami kasi hindi naman kami nage-ensayo para dumepende kay Kalei eh. Nage-ensayo kami para mag-improve as individual and as a unit. So kung may mawawala, kung sino ang nandoon sa pool or sa lineup kailangan mag-step up.“