WANTED: Additional NT members

Wednesday, 28 Jun 2017
Dan Grey - @
Photos courtesy of Philippine Superliga

With the sloppy attendance in training the past few days, the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) pulled off a stroke of a genius when it announced that it will add three to four names in the national team headed for two major international tournaments this August.

Several names have been floated, but federation insiders claimed that they are seriously looking at adding three open spikers and a setter to light a fire under this collection of superstars.

It was a very logical decision.

With veteran Rachel Anne Daquis withdrawing her name, the national squad was lefty with only Frances Molina and Alyssa Valdez as natural open spikers. Sure, head coach Francis Vicente can convert opposites Kim Dy and Jaja Santiago for the role, but the fact still remains that the national team has a gaping hope at the attack zone.

Another missing link is the setter position, preferably a veteran playmaker.

Kim Fajardo may have seen action in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship and in the recent AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship, but she still has yet to get her feet wet in a major international tournament like the AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship – the holy grail of Asian volleyball.

With the possible inclusion of a veteran setter, or somebody who will command respect and police the ranks inside and outside the court, the national squad will suddenly be more matured, more ready for the tough grind ahead.

Insiders said the wildcard entries would be formally introduced together with the rest of the team in a press conference this Friday.

Volleyverse asked around and here are the potential candidates for the position:

Honey Royse Tubino

Open Spiker, Cignal

Tubino has all it takes to be part of the national team: She has the experience, the maturity, the firepower and a pair powerful of arms made of granite.

As a testament of her competitiveness, Tubino played a crucial role for RC Cola-Army when it toppled the junior national team of Thailand in the PSL Invitational Conference last year, becoming the first local club team to dominate the Thais since the 1993 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.

Together with national team stalwart Jovelyn Gonzaga and Daquis, Tubino serves as the spark plug for Cignal in the ongoing PSL All-Filipino Conference.

The only red flag, though, is her failure to be included in the 25-woman pool despite participating in the three-day tryouts in Metro Manila.

But, as they say, love is sweeter the second time around.

Fiola Ceballos

Open Spiker, Generika-Ayala

From the sand court to the hard court, Ceballos is slowly carving her name in the PSL wars.

In fact, the moment reports flew that LVPI will open the nomination for additional members of the national time, Ceballos wasted no time in displaying her talents, delivering 13 points for Generika-Ayala Tuesday night.

Although the Lifesavers suffered a four-set defeat, the message was loud and clear that Ceballos has what it takes to be a national team attacker for ending the preliminaries on the fifth spot of the scoring department behind Santiago, Gonzaga, EJ Laure and Majoy Baron.

Aside from being a protégé of Vicente with the Lifesavers, Ceballos also maintains a good relationship with fellow Central Philippine University alum Gonzaga and will definitely hit the ground running as soon as she gets the call.

Ara Galang

Open Spiker, F2 Logistics

If this program happens, say two or three years ago, Galang would have surely made it in a heartbeat.

A gem of a talent for De La Salle, Galang was once hailed as one of the country’s best attackers with her uncanny ability to read the defense, high-leaping ability and airtight defense at the backline.

Unfortunately, she suffered a gruesome knee injury, robbing her of her athleticism and limiting her opportunities in the international arena.

Although the springs on her legs are not as fluid as before, Galang still remains a force to be reckoned with for F2 Logistics and now that the gates of the national team have swung wide open, there is no doubt that Galang truly deserves to be the first one to enter.

EJ Laure

Open Spiker, Foton

Laure is arguably the best talent outside the national squad.

Although she’s still playing college ball for University of Santo Tomas, Laure has already been displaying a lot of spunk, a lot of maturity for the heavily revamped Foton squad.

With Santiago playing Batman, Laure assumed the role of Robin for the Tornadoes, who finished the preliminaries on top of the eight-team battle with a 5-1 win-loss card.

Another positive sign is the possible inclusion of their coach Moro Branislav as the training director of the national squad.

Should Branislav make it, Laure’s bid for a spot in the national team will surely intensify as the noted Serbian drillmaster knows how to use her effectively, making her play beautiful music with Santiago and Ortiz for the Tornadoes.

Aside from that, she also saw action in the Asian U23 Women’s Championship and the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship last year, making it no surprise if ever she gets the call-up.

Patty Orendain

Open Spiker, Generika-Ayala

Orendain could spring the biggest surprise in this selection.

She may not be a tall attacker and turbulent at times, but her deep familiarity with the system of Vicente and friendship with former national youth team members Fajardo, Valdez and Denden Lazaro could work to her advantage.

She was also part of the Foton squad that campaigned in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship in Laguna and won the PSL Grand Prix under the tutelage of Branislav.

Chie Saet

Setter, Cignal

The name of Saet immediately cropped up the moment LVPI insiders said that they need an experienced playmaker.

Saet may not be an “attacking setter” like Fajardo or a “blocking setter” like Rhea Dimaculangan, but she’s still the best in the business in calling out plays and reading the defense, making sure that everybody gets involved in the assault.

Her most important asset is her wealth of experience.

She is the predecessor of Fajardo and won several titles under Ramil de Jesus at La Salle. Long-time volleyball sideliners said she almost became part of the fabled national team that won the bronze medal in the 2005 SEA Games together with legendary playmaker Tina Salak.

Despite that misfortune, she still saw action in a couple of Asian tourneys so her veteran presence will be very valuable to a team that will be led by another former La Salle star in Mika Reyes.

Cherry Rondina

Open Spiker, Petron

Rondina may have been flying under the radar, but she’s one of the best open spikers in the UAAP and the PSL at the moment.

With her powerful leaping ability, great backline defense and willingness to learn and reunite with college coach Kungfu Reyes, Rondina may be considered to be a great addition to the national team.

She will definitely provide the energy for the national team, similar to what she chipped in for Foton in the Asian Women’s Club battle last year.

The only drawback is her size, but it doesn’t really matter as she can outwit, outwork and outhustle the giants of Asia.

Rubie de Leon

Setter, Foton

If Saet missed the final cut for the national team that won the bronze medal in the 2005 SEA Games, de Leon’s fate was a little bit different.

De Leon, in fact, served as backup to Salak in the squad that has Mary Jean Balse, Mayette Carolino, Cherry Rose Macatangay, Miles Penano, Joanne Botor-Carpio, Amy Guangco, Roxanne Pimentel, Maureen Penetrante and Monico Aleta on the roster.

Sure, she is no longer the same player as 12 years ago, but her maturity and experience will be very valuable for a very young team that is still struggling to find its true identity.

She’s the engine the keeps Foton going in the PSL All-Filipino Conference and her veteran presence and leadership will be greatly needed when the Nationals go up against the titans of Asia like China, Japan and South Korea in the Asian Seniors.

MJ Phillips

Open Spiker, Sta. Lucia Realty

Nothing much can be said about this explosive attacker from Zambales aside from the fact that she would be a very good project for the national team in the years to come.

In her previous games for the Lady Realtors, Phillips displayed a glimpse of her potential as her wide array of smashes and good blocking ability dazzled local crowd.

In a match against Cherrylume, Phillips delivered 23 kills and a pair of aces to finish with 25 points, one of the best offensive productions this conference aside from Santiago’s 35-point explosion in four sets.

It’s also no secret that one of the reasons for flying here is her willingness to represent the country in the international arena with the PSL All-Filipino Conference serving as her tryouts.

But she’s still obviously a work in progress and has yet to completely establish her connection with her setters.

Her only ray of hope is that if the LVPI is looking to tag her along for the national team’s grueling 17-day training in Japan, things will definitely progress and her development will surely be faster than expected.

Rebecca Rivera

Setter, Sta. Lucia Realty

Like Phillips, Rivera has yet to fully grasp the local brand of volleyball.

But observers believe that she has what it takes to be the setter of the future of the national team with her speed, accuracy and ability to read the defense.

Another Filipino-American in Iris Tolenada successfully played in the Asian Seniors in 2015 so it won’t be a surprise if Rivera – a University of Connecticut standout in the Division I of the US NCAA — gets a call up just in case the federation wants to take a different direction and brace for the future.

Also worth a mention:

Bernadeth Pons

Djanel Cheng

Mary Anne Mendrez

Cha Cruz

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