Philippines vs. Japan Game Ball: A “measuring stick” game

While the Philippine women’s volleyball team fell to Japan in straight sets during their 2018 Asian Games encounter, there is much reason to celebrate about the fight our players showed in the deciding set. After being dominated in the first two sets, the national team came just four points short of winning the third. Giving the sixth-best team in the world a scare calls for a celebration for a squad that was formed just months prior. However, the performance is also a measuring stick on how far our program is from becoming elite.

Keep in mind that some of the best volleyball players in our country were playing against Japan’s reserves in the third set. It was uncharacteristic for the Japanese to commit a lot of miscues and the Philippine spikers were happy to capitalize on them. Still, Japan emerged on top while our pride was saved from an annihilation. Maybe the Philippines would have won the third set if Alyssa Valdez played but there are no guarantees. But only one thing’s for sure: we are lightyears away from Japan’s competitiveness because even their reserved edged us.

What more can we expect from players who had to undergo tryouts and seriously prepare for the Asian Games just months before? Well, not much. But if there’s any ray of hope, middle blocker Mika Reyes mentioned in her column for one of the Philippine broadsheets that they are starting a two-year program to bring the competitiveness of Philippine volleyball to greater heights. However, the short-term goal is simple: win against Hong Kong and host Indonesia to have a better shot at the quarterfinals.

Here are other takeaways from the Philippines-Japan match:

How hard was it to watch the game live?

We thought that the official broadcaster in the Philippines will at least have a livestream on YouTube. But when one of their broadcasters tweeted that there will be no livestream due to the absence of TV coverage, finding a live video became an online treasure hunt. Given how passionate Filipino volleyball fans are, this is a struggle that they do not deserve. Meanwhile, that person who captured the game live via Facebook should be given a complimentary medal.

Japan fooled us in the first two sets

They hid their intentions so well that our players kept guessing on defense. The Japanese used a potent combination of killer spikes and dinks especially when the back row is playing too deep. Meanwhile, most of the sets are not too high in order to execute quick kills. Despite they variety in the plays they called, Japan maintained a quick tempo to make our athletes chase them around the court.

That’s why the success of their spikes flowed across the board. Top scorer and returning national team player Miyu Nagaoka led the way with nine while Risa Shinnabe contributed seven. Yuki Ishii had six while Yurie Nabeya, Mai Okumura, and captain Nana Iwasaka connected on five apiece. Erika Araki-Shinomiya connected on four spikes. In contrast, the Santiago sisters led the Philippines in scoring with seven each while Alyssa Valdez registered five.

Can we dig it?

The Philippine team had no defensive digs for the entire match. Either the Japanese hits are just too powerful or our players are out of position. In a related stat, our best player in terms of receptions had a 13.33% success rate while the second best is at 11.75%. These numbers point out the glaring weakness of a squad that has too many middle blockers and few excellent receivers. In some ways, it also points out how ground defense is just as important as guarding the net.

Questionable substitutions

Aside from Valdez sitting out the entire third set, I still wonder why Jaja Santiago was subbed out in set two when she was one of the leading scorers in the previous frame. Aside from her blocking and spiking, her service could have been an asset as well. If there’s any consolation, her sister Dindin Santiago-Manabat matched her scoring output in the second set. Again, is this a case of coach Shaq Delos Santos experimenting with his line-up in game? A solid strategy is needed if we are to beat Hong Kong.

A tall line-up worked wonders

Yes, our players fought against their reserves in the third. But that tall line-up consisting of Santiago at open, Santiago-Manabat at opposite, and Majoy Baron at middle blocker did gave the Japanese a scare. They were successful in a number of blocks and did enough to intimidate the opposing team’s hitters. Could this be a great ploy for their next game? So far, indicators are telling that it is.

The case for Cha Cruz in the starting six

Aside from being a legitimate open hitter, Cha Cruz is the best receiver the squad has. Thailand and Japan have exposed our weakness in this department and having the former De La Salle Lady Spiker fill the second open position behind Valdez is worth a try if we are to ramp up on defense. She can leave the scoring to Valdez, Santiago, Manabat, and Kim Kianna Dy. Likewise, she can pass the ball well enough to give Kim Fajardo clean sets.

What’s next for Team Philippines?

After two grueling matches, the Philippine women’s volleyball team will have it easy on their next two assignments. However, there are no guarantees that they will win both games given that Hong Kong shocked Indonesia in the first set of their match while the host team have the explosive Aprilia Santini Manganang who dominated that match with 28 total points. On paper, these are winnable games. But there are no guarantees of victories unless adjustments are made.