Can Menta drive Foton to the top?

Foton opened a brand-new chapter in Philippine volleyball when it hired Italian as head coach in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship from Sept. 3 to 11 at the Alonte Sports Center in Binan City.

Menta, who handled the national women’s volleyball team of Cook Islands last year, was tapped by the Tornadoes in a bid to achieve their target of reaching the semifinals of the prestigious continental battle as well as help them retain their title when the 2016 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix rolls in October.

The FIVB international volleyball instructor said he is very much excited working with all the players he has ranging from young guns like Jaja Santiago, Cherry Rondina and EJ Laure up to the veterans like Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz and imports Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer.

He, however, is no miracle worker.

[quote]I think we can bring the type of game that is being played by some of the top teams in the world in terms of technical and tactical aspects.”

We will try to develop the game slowly and get to the level where we can finally beat them.[/quote]

He added that he would conduct some drastic changes in the team, including a system that is pattered after the European brand of play.

[quote]There are some changes that I will do, not only in the strategy, but also in the positioning.

Some players will play a role that is different from what they used to have when they played in the PSL Grand Prix and All-Filipino Conference.[/quote]

Menta will get his acid test when he flies with the team, together with guest players Jovelyn Gonzaga of RC Cola-Army, Aby Marano of F2 Logistics and Jen Reyes of Petron, to Sisaket, Thailand to compete in the 2016 Select Tuna Thailand Volleyball Championship next week.

The squad is stacked in Team A together with Asian champion Bangkok Glass, Bangsit University and host team Sisaket, which is composed of the nucleus of Thai national women’s volleyball team.

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High expectations

The first time a foreign coach landed in Manila to handle a high-caliber program was in 1993 when former Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association (Pava) secretary-general Ramon Suzara hired Stanislavs Lugailo to spearhead the Philippine Team in the 1993 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.

Lugailo kicked it off by handpicking all the best young players from various regions and house them in Manila to provide non-stop training and foreign exposure.

In three year’s time, Zenaida Chavez, Rosemarie Prochina, Leonora Escollante and Thelma Barina-Rojas blossomed into the region’s best players, prompting them to overcome Thailand in the gold-medal match of the SEA Games.

More than two decades later, Ateneo de Manila tried the trick when it tapped Anusorn Bundit of Thailand to take charge of its volleyball program. The result was also an overwhelming success as Bundit quickly turned things around and rewarded Ateneo’s faith in him with a pair of UAAP women’s volleyball titles.

Earlier this year, the Lady Eagles fought tooth and nail for their third crown, but La Salle was simply too powerful, too dominant to be denied.

Adamson also followed the trend as it hired former California State Most Valuable Player Airess Padda to take the helm of its volleyball program.

Although the contract has been signed, Padda has yet to formally buckle down to work, leaving bulk of the coaching chores to her high-profile deputies in former La Salle star Michelle Gumabao and legend Cherry Rose Macatangay.

That’s why it’s a no-brainer why there’s a lot of pressure on Menta.

A long-time volleyball observer said hiring a foreign coach only shows that a team is looking for results. Foton, for instance, is dead serious in getting back to the top following a sorry loss to F2 Logistics in the best-of-three finals duel for the 2016 PSL All-Filipino title last week.

With Menta’s hiring, former head coach Vilet Ponce-de Leon would take the role of chief assistant together with Ronald Dulay. Former national team skipper, Ian Fernandez, would still retain his position as statistician.

[quote]Of course, there is a lot of pressure on Fabio, especially since he is somebody who came from Italy which is 8th in the latest FIVB world ranking.

His hiring only shows how serious Foton is in its build-up for the AVC tournament and the PSL Grand Prix. Everybody welcomes Fabio’s arrival and is looking forward to immediate results.[/quote]

Foton president Rommel Sytin admitted that they are looking forward to better results, but the primary reason for bringing in a European coach is to give local coaches and players a ringside view of how it’s being done from the other side of the world.

[quote]I want them to listen and absorb the quality of game Fabio will be bringing on the table.

His hiring is a step in the right direction, not only for Foton, but also for the entire Philippine volleyball as well.[/quote]

Pet project

Among the players on Foton’s roster, it is Santiago whom Menta is very interested in developing.

A 6-foot-5 gem of a blocker, the 20-year old Santiago is said to be the future of Philippine volleyball. She has the height, the length, the athleticism and the talent to make it to the international circuit.

In fact, a prestigious varsity program in the United States — University of California-Los Angeles — was trying to recruit her a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, nothing significant materialized as she turned it down.

But with Menta’s arrival, her lofty dream of making it big suddenly sprang back to life.

[quote]I think Jaja has the skills and the talent. She has the height, for sure.

She has the body to be in the international level.[/quote]

Menta observed that Santiago is still a diamond in the rough, and with proper training and technique, she can blossom into an international sensation.

So far, Santiago already has an impressive international resume after seeing action in the Asian U23 Women’s Championship and the 28th SEA Games last year. This year, she will campaign for the AVC club tourney and the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship from Oct. 18 to 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Sources said at least four scouts would be arriving in Manila during the five-day world tourney to check out Santiago and, probably, personally meet her.

The scouts, who are said to be from Turkey and United States, are connected with international talent agencies that also handle the professional career of some of the high-profile club players around the world.

And it didn’t come as a surprise to Menta.

[quote]She still has a lot of work ahead, but I think she will develop within a year.

I think after a year, we can see a lot of countries requesting for Jaja’s services.[/quote]

Menta added that Santiago is the Philippines’ brightest hope.

[quote]Yes, she is your (Philippines) great hope.

Jaja is absolutely a wonderful talent. The Philippines must be very proud for the opportunity to have Jaja.[/quote]

Speed is key

But it’s not every day that you have a player as tall as Santiago.

Menta said to compensate for their lack of height, the Filipinos must come up with blinding speed to dominate the opposition in the international arena.

He cited the case of Thailand and Japan, two Asian powerhouse teams who are making a gallant stand in the international stage.

[quote]Compared to other countries, Thailand and Japan are not tall. On the contrary, when you meet the Russians, they are very tall; but they are not in the first or second spot in the world ranking.

You got Brazil and China, Italy is actually fourth. So you got countries that don’t necessarily have the height.[/quote]

Menta noted that aside from Stalzer and Usher, Santiago is the only player on the roster who stands above six-feet.

[quote]This is important in volleyball: If you don’t have the height, you need to have speed.

Because if you’re not tall and you’re not fast, you’ve got little chances to win. We will work hard to get players to top speed.[/quote]

True enough, Menta speaks like a true volleyball Messiah.

His words sound like gospel of truth that will drive Foton back to the top. And with his arrival, it appears that a new era of Philippine volleyball had finally dawned on local coaches, players and millions of fans, who are all patiently waiting for the country to play high-caliber brand of volleyball.

His arrival like having a renaissance, like an oasis in a dry desert that everybody has been waiting for.

Now, the question is: Will he be able to handle the pressure and live above everybody’s expectations?

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