“Abandon hope all ye who enter here”
That line from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy summarized my feelings coming into the quarterfinals match between the Philippine women’s volleyball team and world-best China. The Filipino in me is whispering that they have a fighting chance against the Chinese’s great wall of players. But in reality, the opponent is just too tall (no player under 5’ 9”) and too skilled (defending Olympic champion). Upsets in sports are bound to happen. But even that is impossible for this match-up.
China dominated Team Philippines by giving up just 31 points in three sets. Consider it as a statement game for them to give their future opponents a scare. As a testament to their depth, usual top scorers like Zhu Ting and Li Yingying took a backseat to players such as Gong Xiangyu with 16 points (11 spikes, four blocks, one ace), Liu Xiaotong with ten (eight of which are spikes), and Yuan Xinyue who connected on eight blocks. Nevertheless, the demolition job was over in less than an hour.
There’s no use dissecting the game for the Chinese volleyball team is just in a different dimension. Their regimen under Coach Jenny Lang Ping has produced championships and medals while their program is in full swing. Meanwhile, ours is just getting started. Yes, our team failed in scaling the Great Wall. But I hope we can take a lot of pointers from this experience and improve in succeeding tournaments.
If there’s any bright spot in this performance, Jaja Santiago had just as many points as China’s leading scorer. She was able to use her height to connect on 12 kill spikes, three blocks, and a service ace. Perhaps her game against the number one ranked women’s volleyball team in the world can give us a hint on how we should build the national team in the future and how to use talent effectively. Denden Lazaro’s diversion spike of the sideline is worth mentioning too.
Meanwhile, a 43.75% reception rate is commendable too given the percentages the team had in the previous games. Let’s not forget the 19 excellent digs from eight different players, six of which courtesy of Dawn Macandili.
However, Santiago’s ace was the only one the Philippines can muster out of 33 total tries. Worst, only five other players managed to register a point for the Philippines. Alyssa Valdez only had three points while Dindin Santiago-Manabat had two. Lazaro, Majoy Baron, and Mika Reyes all had one point apiece. Likewise, the reception rate could have dropped if the game went longer. Simply put, China had our number and they even shut down one of our main offensive weapons.
We can come up with adjustments or strategies that could have improved the team’s performance. But there’s no guarantee that those will work against a team that takes no prisoners. China is yet to drop a set and they have marched over the opposition in convincing fashion. After they unleashed hell, we realized how long of a road we need to travel just to give them a fair fight.
But after this disappointing loss, there’s still reason to fight. A possible fifth place finish is not bad considering the nations that will finish in the top four. We have a great chance of defeating Kazakhstan and eventually win over either Vietnam or Indonesia. The contention for a medal might be gone but the resiliency of this team will still be tested as they play for pride in their final two games at the 2018 Asian Games.
One day, we will be able to scale the Great Wall that Chinese volleyball imposes. But for that to happen, we must break down the walls that hinder our nation from being great in the sport. The foundation has been laid and the powers that be must have a cohesive and comprehensive blueprint to solidify our stature in international volleyball.