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Philippines’ win over Kazakhstan vindicates local volleyball

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The road to the AVC U23 tournament for the Philippines squad was littered with political drama, stars refusing to participate, heartbreaking injuries, and even an unlucky draw of opponents resulting in an overall sense of dread from the Pinoys who followed the sport dearly.

After falling to Iran on the first day of the competition, the National Team faced even heavier scrutiny as they then had to win against world-ranked Kazakhstan to stay alive in the tournament.

The National Team showed the resiliency endemic to Filipinos and fought like the global underdogs we are, pulling off an unlikely straight set upset over Kazakhstan 25-19, 25-11, 28-26 at the PhilSports Arena, Pasig City.

The entire Philippines cast was on-point and played like they were riding a mystical cloud powered by the Pinoy crowd’s cheers. Philippine Women’s Under 23 Volleyball team captain Alyssa Valdez was her usual brilliant self, leading all-scorers with 19 points. The UAAP MVP was devastating from all angles, converting back row attacks, drop balls, and well-placed cut shots. But she was most effective from the service area as her three service aces left Kazakhstan speechless.

“As in hindi namin in-expect na matatalo namin sila [Kazakhstan]. Ang gusto lang namin is makabawi from kahapon,” said the two-time UAAP Champion.

Jaja Santiago not only continued to prove to be more than just a lumbering 6’5 middle blocker, but also to be one of our country’s beacons to global volleyball competency. Santiago dropped 12 points and two aces as her quick attacks were much more fluent compared to yesterday’s match. The success of PH’s offense can most be attributed to its spunky setter, Jia Morado who continues to outsmart girls way more experienced than she is. Morado garnered 26 excellent sets as her dumped sets continue to be an effective weapon in the team’s arsenal.

Philippine head coach, Roger Gorayeb also made game-breaking decisions with his lineup, opting to start Myla Pablo in the opposite hitter position and Risa Sato in the other middle blocker spot. The adjustments worked tremendously as Pablo’s height and powerful hits gave the host team a much needed offensive boost with her eight points, while Risa Sato was a steady presence at the net garnering five markers.

The biggest rebound performance from yesterday’s loss came from Tin Agno. The Libero struggled with her reception yesterday but regained her cat-like quickness in today’s match as she nabbed 11 digs and five excellent sets.

The Philippines was dominant the entire match but nearly dropped a sizable advantage in the third set. Down 18-24, Kazakhstan rattled off six straight points as the Pinays’ service reception went down the drain momentarily. PH quickly regained their composure and fought off late attack errors to pull themselves out of their momentary slump. More than the win, Coach Gorayeb is more excited about the implications the win has for the local volleyball scene.

“Alam naman nating lahat ‘yung hirap na pinagdaanan namin para lang makarating dito. Ang daming pumipigil sa amin na maituloy ‘yung pagsali namin dito kaya laking salamat na lang namin na nakarating kami dito. Malaki ‘yung napatunayan ng mga player na may ikalalagay tayo sa volleyball,” Gorayeb remarked.

The win gives the Philippines an outright berth into the Top Eight. The National Team now awaits the result of tomorrow’s Iran-Kazakhstan tiff to determine who will be ranked first in Pool A. An Iran wins means the national team is seeded second while a Kazakhstan triumph boosts us up to number one.

The Scores:

PHI (3) – Valdez 19, Santiago 12, Soltones 9, Pablo 8, De Jesus 5, Morado 2, De Jesus 0, Agno (L)

KAZ (0) – Yagodina 18, Bortnikova 5, Razorenkova 4, Rostovchsikova 4, Aizharikova 4, Maratova 3, Chumak 1, Akilova 1, Sakharova 1, Marmovskaya (L)

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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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