Six important questions on the Philippines-Thailand match

Although the Philippine women’s team for the 2018 Asian Games volleyball are already in Indonesia, they decided to skip the opening day parade in exchange for an extra day of practice before their game against powerhouse Thailand. Here are the most pressing questions leading our national team’s first Asian Games match in over three decades.

Is there a weakness to Thailand’s game?

The Thailand women’s volleyball team seems to struggle against taller players. They have a hard time letting their spikes get past vertically-gifted blockers as evident in their matches against Serbia, Russia, and The Netherlands during the 2018 Volleyball Nations League. While these teams played straight up volleyball with less misdirection and combinations plays, the Thais still had a hard time containing the power of their opponent’s spikes.

How will Thailand attack the Philippine defense?

Most of the attack will be coming from the wings. Their bread-and-butter play is a running spike from setters Nootsara Tomkom or Pornpun Guedpard to the likes of Pleumjit Thinkaow and Onuma Sittirak. They also prefer to execute more cross-court than down-the-line attacks. We haven’t even mentioned outside hitter Wilavan Apinyapong who can pound the ball straight up. Speed is a typical trait of any Thai team and they will use it to throw Team Philippines out of rhythm.

Aside from Pleumjit and Onumak, who can deliver the hurt for Thailand?

Keep an eye on Ajcharaporn Kongyot. The 2017-18 Thailand League Most Valuable Player will try to bury devastating kills off the Philippine back row. Meanwhile, Pimpichaya Kokram is great in finding the hole cross-court. Likewise, the Philippines should be wary about Chatchu-on Moksri’s serve.

Will the extra day of practice help the Philippine team?

It will boost our chances to be competitive against the queens of Southeast Asian volleyball. However, I feel that this practice will not be as intense as their sessions in Okayama, Japan because the players will want a good rest for the upcoming match. Rather, it would a light run-through of their strategy for their first game. This will also help integrate Dawn Macandili into the system after missing training camp due to academic reasons.

How must the Philippines attack the Thais?

Our spikers must attack with force and try to drill the ball through the gaps of the Thai defense. But for this to happen, the setters must deliver clean balls at optimal height to clear the opposing blockers. Our players cannot afford to play sluggish because their players are quick to recover. If possible, we should match the speed and energy by which they perform.

Who should be in the Philippine starting line-up?

Height and power will neutralize Thailand’s agility. If I were coach Shaq Delos Santos, here’s who I will put in the first six:

• Outside hitters: Alyssa Valdez and Dindin Santiago-Manabat – Aside from Valdez’ killer hits, her familiarity with the Thai style of volleyball will be beneficial in reading their plays. Meanwhile, Santiago-Manabat’s height makes her an asset above and in front of the net.

• Middle blockers/hitters: Jaja Santiago and Majoy Baron – As two of the taller players in the team, Santiago and Baron will have a better vision of the court especially when they are designated to attack. Also, their length will help cover more defensive ground even if they are a step slower. If the NU Lady Bulldog can dominate on offense, our chances will improve.

• Opposite spiker: Mylene Paat – She might be a late addition to the national squad but don’t sleep on Paat especially on her impeccable timing for blocks. Her powerful spike also makes her a sleeper offensive threat.

• Setter: Jia Morado – Sometimes, the best way to defeat an adversary is to give them a dose of their own medicine. Thus, Morado is the better choice in running a Thai-inspired cadence given that she played under Tai Bundit in Ateneo.

• Libero: Dawn Macandili – No offense to Denden Lazaro but Macandili’s reflexes are miles ahead. She will be able to cover a lot of loopholes on reception. However, I wonder if rust will be a factor for her on the opening set. But as the game goes on, the defensive ace will get her groove going.