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Philippines wins a historic first set over China, but gets eliminated in four sets

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The running narrative in the build-up to the Philippines’ match against China was that the Nationals didn’t stand a chance; that we were going to get taken to school in the worst possible way.

But the Nationals proved their own expectations, and the forecast of all-knowing local volleyball pundits wrong when they gave China all it could take. For the first time in international competition, the Philippines took a set against the vaunted Chinese National Team and went down swinging in four sets, 25-23, 14-25, 18-25, 17-25 in the AVC U23 tournament Thursday at the PhilSports Arena, Pasig City.

The Chinese were taller, faster, and way more experienced than the hosts. However, the Nationals found a way through and, receiving a huge boost from the crowd, made history in the first set of the match. Taking advantage of a Chinese starting lineup that didn’t feature its stars, the Nationals rode the talent of their top players to keep within range of the Chinese. When China led by 16-15, the Philippines rifled off three straight points via Myla Pablo attacks and a Jaja Santiago ace, 16-18. China quickly responded, scoring three straight points via terrific blocking later in the set to snatch the lead back 21-20. From there, team captain, Alyssa Valdez, sparked a 4-2 Pinay scoring run to setup set point for the Philippines. Myla Pablo soared from the sideline and crushed an attack down the line to give the Philippines the first set to the jubilation of the home crowd.

China then began to take the match more seriously in fielding their most dangerous attacker, Liu Yanhan, in the second set to expose the Philippines’ defense. Yanhan played with her heart on her sleeve, turning the volleyball into a lethal weapon every time she got a touch, and reacting violently after each point or call that didn’t go her team’s way. She topped the match in scoring in just three sets of action with 21 points off an efficient 18 for 39 attacking clip. China’s elite height and blocking played a major role in their triumph as they out-blocked the Pinays, 13-6. Also a result of China’s dominance at the net was the Philippines’ 30 errors; a lot, considering China only had 15.

On the bright side, the Philippines matched China point for point in the attacking department and their much criticized reception was rock solid for much of the match, giving up only seven aces. The Pinays pulled spectacular performances from everyone they fielded as Valdez led her team in scoring with 17 points while Jaja Santiago piled up 16 markers. Playing the opposite hitter position for the first time in her volleyball career in this tournament, Myla Pablo recorded her tournament-high 11 points. Risa Sato was pivotal in the first set win, scoring all of her five points in the historic frame.

“Mas matangkad sila, mas experienced sila, sino ba nga naman ‘yung magaakala na mananalo kami ng kahit isang set sa kanila?,” Philippines Head Coach Roger Gorayeb said during the post-match press conference. “Kung makakapaglaro lang ‘yung mga bata sa mga ibang bansa, para lang magka-experience against matangkad na competition, malaking tulong ‘yun sa development ng volleyball sa bansa.”

“We didn’t expect the match the Philippines to be this energetic. We didn’t play to our potential, this was good for the Philippines but bad for our team,” said China Head Coach, Xu Jiande.

The loss eliminates the Philippines from contention for a Top 4 spot. They will face Chinese Taipei tommorow in their first of two classification matches for ranks five through eight.

“Sa tingin ko gigil ‘yung Taipei na patunayan na hindi kami dapat nanalo ng isang set sa kanila. Sana maging advantage namin ‘yun para matalo sila,” Gorayeb remarked on their rematch with Chinese Taipei.

The Score:

China (3) – Liu 21, Zheng 13, Duan 11, Xu 8, Chen 5, Gong 5, Wang 3, Cheng 1, Song 1, Huang (L), Wang (L)

Philippines (1) – Valdez 17, Santiago 16, Pablo 11, Morado 5, Sato 5, Soltones 4, Laure 1, De Jesus 0, Meneses 0, Agno (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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