Nationals eye strong start

KUALA LUMPUR – The Philippines marches to the war zone in quest of a victory that would give it the momentum for the tough grind ahead in the 29th Southeast Asian Games women’s volleyball competition Thursday at the MITEC Hall 8 here.

The star-studded Nationals take on the Malaysians at 2 pm in what is seen as an appetizer before taking on heavyweight Vietnam and facing either Indonesia or Thailand in the sudden-death semi finals.

Bannered by skipper Mika Reyes, hopes are high on the Nationals as they trained for 17 days in three Japanese cities and came up with a good run in the 19th AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship in Binan City recently.

The Philippines finished eighth in the Asian Seniors, but its campaign was highlighted by morale-boosting victories over Hong Kong and Vietnam as well as good performance against Asian supremos like South Korea and Kazakhstan.

Head coach Francis Vicente said he likes the performance of his wards in the Asian tourney, but the real yardstick is the SEA Games, where they are gunning for a podium finish – or at least a bronze medal – for the first time since the 23rd edition in Manila in 2005.

“I like the progress of the team.”

“The team had already developed. It is now fighting hard and pushing its opponents to the limit. I just hope we can carry that momentum into the SEA Games starting against Malaysia.”

The Malaysians could be an easy foe.

Composed mostly of university players, a hastily formed Philippine side dominated the Malaysians, 25-25, 25-28, 25-16, in the group stage of the previous SEA Games in Singapore.

Although their match could be a perfect warm-up for the tough battle against the Vietnamese on Saturday, Vicente stressed that they still can’t afford to put their guard down because the Malaysians can still spring some surprises.

“We still have to play with the same amount of toughness and intensity.”

“We want to win convincingly to gain momentum and confidence against the likes of Vietnam and Indonesia or Thailand in the latter part of the tournament.”

Aside from Reyes, also tipped to carry the fight for the Nationals are Jaja Santiago, Aby Marano, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Alyssa Valdez and playmaker Kim Fajardo.

Asian tourney’s 2nd Best Libero Dawn Macandili would also be on board to replace Denden Lazaro as main defender.