A valiant stand: Philippines vs. Iran

What’s more painful than losing in five sets after winning the first two? Losing again but with a narrow margin in the fifth.

In two straight days, the Philippine women’s volleyball team suffered bitter defeat after going the distance. We had the lead halfway through the fifth set against Australia but they unleashed a run that our squad was not able to answer. But the loss against Iran is tougher to swallow for they were just two points shy.

We can say all we want about that controversial call when the score was 11-10 to Iran in the fifth. Replays clearly show that it was out of bounds. But to say that we lost the game on that call is wrong. Our players fought hard until the score was tied at 13. Before that, we could have closed them out in the fourth but scored only 12 points. But as frustrating this result is, I saw positive signs of an improving volleyball program.

During one time-out in the Iran game, national team head coach Cesael “Shaq” Delos Santos uttered words that will serve as mantra for better days ahead: “tiyagain natin, aralin natin” (let’s persevere, let’s study). With their recent performances, they are living up to this word.

For two days, our national players gave higher-ranked teams everything they can handle. The Asian Games 2018 experience certainly helped the hold-overs on this squad for they were playing with more confidence and zest. That game against Iran alone is worth applauding especially how they fought in the odd-numbered sets. Plus, they were moving, communicating, and executing better.

We can only hope that the powers that be in Philippine volleyball can see this as a turning point on how the sport can be developed. But with more perseverance and study, reality still sinks in as we are out of quarterfinal contention for the AVC Cup for Women 2018. Consider it growing pains for a squad that has not competed in this level for so long. Success will not come overnight. But if the tiyaga and aral will continue, Philippine volleyball will rise.

First set – advantage: Philippines

The Philippine women’s volleyball team showed character in the first set by edging Iran, 29-27. The Iranians did not hide their intentions for the match. With height advantage in hand, they sought to exploit it by delivering high sets for their wing spikers who pounded the ball either cross-court or down the line. That’s the reason why they had a slight lead in attack points in the first set (IRI-18, PHI-16). They were also able to dominate the block category, 5-1.

However, the 12 turnovers that Iran committed ultimately cost them the set. Mind you that the Philippines was able to clinch set one due to two Iranian errors: a service that did not clear the net and an over-reception that Aby Marano slapped for the winning score. In contrast, the Filipinas only committed three errors.

Second set – Iran levels the match

Aside from being a dangerous team on the wings, Iran is also an excellent serving unit as proven by the 13 aces they collected against Kazakhstan. In that game, Iranian team captain Maedeh Borhani Esfahani got five aces. The same theme prevailed against the Philippines as they tallied four aces in set two. The squad of coach Javad Mehregan became more aggressive too for they connected on 14 attacks courtesy of Borhani and Mahsa Kadkhoda. In contrast, the Philippines only had eight attack points. Blocks (IRI – 3, PHI – 0) and errors (IRI – 4, PHI – 7) also went their way.

Third set – The Mylene Paat show

Simply put, Paat shone in this set. The Iranian blockers had a hard time containing her attacks and she had a single block for a score too. But to temper expectations, it was the set wherein Borhani was given a breather. Taking her place was Neda Chamlanian who had a hammer for a hand. Likewise, they also threatened to steal the set even if the Philippines established an 18-7 lead. The 25-17 score line shows that Iran scored more down the stretch, it’s just that the lead is hard to surmount.

Despite those positive statements for Iran, they seemed to be out of sync without their captain on the floor. At set’s end, Paat largely contributed to the Philippines’ 13 attack points as compared to Iran’s nine. The Iranians also had more errors, 7-5. In terms of blocks, the Philippines had a surprising edge (5-2) courtesy of Paat, Marano, Cha Cruz – Behag and Mika Reyes.

Fourth set – Iran ran over the Philippines

There’s not much to discuss here. Iran dominated as Borhani checked back in. Chamlanian continued her stellar game while Kadkhoda and Mahsa Saberi followed suit. The Philippine players also struggled to cleanly receive or pass the first ball which translates to easy scores for the Iranians. Aces (IRI – 4, PHI – 0), attack points (IRI – 12, PHI – 7), and blocks (IRI – 4, PHI – 0) all went to Iran’s favor while team errors are even at five.

Fifth set – A set for the ages

The trio of Jia Morado, Jema Galanza, and Denden Lazaro should be considered non-scoring MVPs for the Philippines due to their yeoman’s job of fielding the powerful Iranian spikes. If not for them, the team will not have the chance to inch closer. Iran led 8-5 halfway through the set but spikes from Marano, Reyes, Cruz – Behag, Valdez, and Paat helped level the score at 13. However, Borhani connected on consecutive spikes to win the game for Iran.

Kadkhoda and Borhani converted all 11 Iranian attack points. Meanwhile, the Philippines got nine, four of which courtesy of Valdez. Iran had one more error (4-3) and had one block as well. Both teams did not convert a serving ace.

Team statistics

Despite the narrow loss by the Philippine women’s volleyball team, the numbers will tell otherwise largely because of the two sets that the Pinays lost by a big margin. Spikes are to Iran’s advantage, 65-53, and three of their players connected in double-digits. Kadkhoda led Iran with 19 kill spikes while Borhani had 18.

Meanwhile, Chamlanian had ten on 19 total attempts for a 52.6% success rate. Kadkhoda and Borhani’s conversion rate is 35.2% and 41%, respectively. On the other hand, Valdez connected on 22 of 69 spike attempts for a 32% success rate but she is the only one in double-figures for the Philippines. Paat registered eight while Marano collected six.

Blocks went to Iran as well, 15-6, with Kadkhoda tallying five. Safari Shekouleh and Bagherpor Soudabeh had three and two stops, respectively. Their domination spills into the service department with Iran recording ten aces, six of which from Kadkhoda. On the other hand, only Valdez registered an ace for the Philippines.

Four players scored in double figures for the Iranians. Kadkhoda’s 30 is supported by Borhani’s 18 and Chamlanian’s 12. Saberi added ten while Soudabeh got six. Meanwhile, Valdez paced the Philippines with 24 markers while Paat contributed with ten. Marano and Cruz had eight and six, respectively.