A week ago, the PSL-F2 Logistics Manila squad embarked on a historic campaign in the 2016 FIVB Women’s Club World Championships — the first time the Philippines has hosted a world-class competition in more than a decade — at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The host squad included seven of the best local PSL players – Jaja Santiago, Kim Fajardo, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Rachel Daquis, Jen Reyes, Ces Molina, and Mika Reyes – who got the chance to test their mettle against women’s volleyball’s best.
The act of hosting has greatly helped bring attention back to Philippine volleyball, which has been dormant in international competitions for the better part of the past decade.
The competition also gave outsiders a look at the level of talent in Philippine volleyball, which trended worldwide on Twitter whenever there would be a major local competition.
While most coaches admittedly saw that Filipina players still had a long way to go before legitimately qualifying for world-level tournaments, they did point out that the base for a successful program was present.
Giovanni Caprara, who steered Pomi Casalmaggiore to a surprising silver-medal finish in the Women’s CWC, singled out Fajardo and Santiago as the players who have most potential.
Most coaches, on other hand, gave a more general evaluation rather than looking at individual talents.
Legendary head coach Bernardo Rezende, who has won at virtually every level of volleyball and mentored a young Rexona-Sesc squad to fifth in the Women’s CWC, complimented the Filipinas’ fighting spirit.
“I thought they competed at every point they really fought it out. And you need that in your players: You can teach skills and, of course, height is a factor, but the fighting spirit and the hunger to win are hard to find in players. I loved their fighting spirit,” said Rezende.
The local style of play also drew comparison to the prevalent low-fast style in Asia. Massimo Barbolini, who coached Eczacibasi VitrA to the World championship, found that his European players had trouble adjusting to PSL’s quickness when they faced off in the elimination round.
“It’s always difficult when you face a team that’s trying to play fast. My players aren’t used to this. It’s always interesting to play against Asian volleyball teams because they make up for their lack in centimeters with technique and pace so they can compete in these type of tournaments,” Barboulini shared.
For his part, Vakifbank Istanbul and Dutch National Team head coach Giovanni Guidetti was also fascinated with the Asian style of play. But he doubts any team that lacks height will ever win gold at the Olympics or even in the World Club Championship.
“A lot of volleyball involves jumping high and reaching high so no, I think the taller players will always have an advantage. Maybe if there was a way to combine playing fast with tall players but then the tall players would not be as agile,” Guidetti reflected.
“But I think it’s great that teams like Thailand, Japan, and some of your Philippine players can still compete despite their lack in centimeter. It’s still beautiful to watch the fast and combination plays.”
Regardless of style, the general consensus among coaches was the need for continued participation in international tournaments.
“I think what’s important for any program is just to continue preparing for and participating in international events. Being able to play in the World Club Tournament is great, but that’s just one tournament in the year. The only real way for teams and players to improve is to be exposed to international competition regularly,” said Rezende.
2017 is building up to be a busy year for Philippine volleyball, with the AVC Seniors tournament and the SEA Games on deck.