We Pinoys are used to being the underdogs, but China has been accustomed to Asian volleyball dominance.
After winning against Kazakhstan, the Philippines not only made history and qualified for the Top 8, but also signed up for a week-long volleyball clinic with the Asian powerhouses that have taught them tough lessons and reminded them of how far behind they are still in the sport. The Nationals’ toughest instructor, top World U23 team, China, now waits with a laundry list of lessons to feed the host team.
China won the inaugural U23 World Championships in Tijuana, Mexico last 2013 and have plowed through all the competition they encountered so far in the tournament. Their Seniors team have been a steady presence in the Olympics since the sport was included in the roster of Olympic sports, and won their last Olympic Gold in 2004. Not to mention they finished in the Top 4 of World Tournaments in the past five years.
If you were to describe a perfect volleyball team, you’d immediately mention the Chinese team; tall but quick in all positions, and well equipped with top-level volleyball skills. They’re a deep team that coasted by early in the tournament against weaker competition, then waylaid the two top teams – Korea and Thailand – they faced after. They’ve showed their overall brilliance as they lead the tournament in spiking efficiency, block kills, and aces and have barely given up any errors.
However, the biggest challenge China presents has to be in their open hitter, Liu Yanhan. The 6’2 Liu was the top scorer in the U23 World Championships where China won Gold and is the only member of that team on the current roster. Yanhan can deliver powerful attacks from literally anywhere on the court. Her best display in the tournament came against Korea when she scored 37 points off a devastating 34 for 64 attacking clip.
“I felt like I needed to score in that match,” Yanhan told Tiebreaker Times. “On the team, I just do what we needs from me to succeed.”
When asked about their matchup against the Philippines, Liu acknowledged the Filipinos’ inherent hospitality, but said that the Pinoys transform when it comes time to support their team. “The crowd here is very noisy. We don’t have this type of following in China so that will be definitely be tough for us. The Philippines also has very good players in Number 2 [Valdez] and Nunber 3 [Santiago] and we’re definitely going to prepare for them,” Yanhan remarked.
The Philippines is going to need to play a perfect match to move ahead into the Top 4, as China will come at them from all angles and force them into very uncomfortable corners. The hosts have to do better with their service reception to better setup their own offensive plays, find a way to stop China’s best attacks, and limit their errors to less than six a set.
Should they win tomorrow, they’ll face either Chinese Taipei or Korea on Friday for the right to move on to the Gold medal match.