The Philippine women’s team raced to a 9-2 lead in the first set of their 2018 Asian Games volleyball opener against Thailand. After which, the Thais took over to win in straight sets, 25-22, 25-12, 25-15. Alyssa Valdez led the Philippines in scoring with seven points while Jaja Santiago and Kim Kianna Dy had six apiece. But beyond those numbers, here’s what we’ve learned from the loss.
Thailand is just in a different class
Perhaps they have underestimated the Philippine team early on or they are trying to read our team’s game plan. But when they gave their best, it showed why the Thailand women’s volleyball team is ranked 16th in the world. Credit their cohesion to being intact for years plus gaining much experience and knowledge from previous international tournaments like the 2018 Volleyball Nations League.
There was no stopping their rampage to victory when they finally got their bearings. The Thais flustered the Philippine defense with a flurry of kills from every conceivable attack area. The Thailand spikers were also aggressive in finding the gaps in the Philippine defense by bringing their kills to varying zones. They also played well outside their comfort positions. Case in point: team captain and ace middle blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow was able to deliver balls to their real setter Pornpun Guedpard for scores.
It’s challenging to go up against a team that has a 36-year headstart. Within those decades, Thailand was able to hone a continuous chain of volleyball talent thanks to the policy by their Ministry of Education to make the sport a staple Physical Education activity for girls. Once they spot someone with exemplary talent, the Thailand Volleyball Association invites them for specialized training.
Their rising stars made the difference
When the likes of Pleumjit, Nootsara Tomkom, and Wilavan Apinyapong decided to hang their sneakers, the 18-year-old Chatchu-on Moksri will be the undispusted face of Thailand women’s volleyball. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the maturity of her game just because she is a teenager. The outside spiker certainly did not have cold feet in this match for she led her squad in scoring with 15. But while she possesses a hammer of a spike, it’s her service that makes her a gem for coach Danai Sriwacharamaytakul.
As she jumps to serve the ball, Moksri is able to create a sharp trajectory because she delays the hit for a split second. Once all the energy she generated is transferred to the ball, its velocity makes it difficult to receive cleanly. Her long and slender frame makes her a potent blocker as well. It’s scary to even think that her seemingly polished game can only improve from here.
But Chatchu-on did not do it alone. Supporting her in scoring is 20-year-old opposite spiker Pimpichaya Kokram with 13. With young but talented players already integrated into their senior team, the Thailand volleyball program is something we can emulate if we are to improve in the sport.
Santiago can deliver the goods
Once she gets a clean set, Jaja Santiago can drill the ball. Her height certainly helps to see the opposing team’s side clearly and make the ball travel above blockers. If the Philippine team were to improve their winning chances in the succeeding games, setters must find her more often because she is not even in the top three for the Philippines in terms of spike attempts. The former National University Bulldog was also a gem in service with three aces.
Furthermore, Jia Morado and Kim Fajardo must scatter the ball to multiple spikers to keep defenses guessing. In this game against Thailand, Valdez had the most spike attempts with 18 while Dy had 16. But there is a significant drop after the two of them as Maraño only had seven opportunities.
First ball reception is an issue
This is the most glaring error that the Philippine team manifested. Whether it is an over-reception or a botched one, it gave the Thais a lot of easy points. It’s no wonder that the shaky recovery of the first ball largely contributed to the 50 successful spike attempts for Thailand, 21 more than that of the Pinays. Our players must address this concern if we are to have a fighting chance against Japan.
Likewise, their effort in the early part of the game is commendable and they must find a way to sustain that in every set. They played with tremendous energy out of the gates and the players from Thailand were not able to match that. That level of enthusiasm can yield great results for our national spikers.
Dawn Macandili not her usual self
Expect her to perform well in the succeeding games. But missing training camp in Japan means that Ms. Everywhere is not in volleyball shape. Though she still performed patented digs, her reaction time is not the usual. There was even an instance when she fought with Valdez for the ball. Given more practice, Macandili will be back in game shape and that will be a significant boost to the team’s defense.
Did the coaching staff throw in the towel early?
Coach Shaq Delos Santos decided to go with the second stringers for most of the third set. This is after Thailand scored its second straight set and is just one away from the victory. Santiago and Valdez did not step on the court anymore while Maraño and Kim Fajardo were brought back when the game was out of hand. On one end, it is a good ploy to give everyone exposure and to conserve the starters for the next game. But did the coaching staff gave up quickly? Worst, are they still experimenting to find the best combination in the floor in the midst of the Asian Games?
In a post-game interview, Coach Delos Santos considers this a good experience for the team and that they are still in the process of building the squad. If that’s the case, then we should temper our expectations for this team even though we shower them with unwavering support. Suddenly, games against host nation Indonesia and Hong Kong are not walks in the park.