Will Thai stint improve Philippine’s SEA Games chances?

With the possible recruitment of Alyssa Valdez and four Philippine Superliga (PSL) stars in top-flight volleyball clubs in Thailand, the country’s chances in the Southeast Asian Games is also expected to improve.

An old hand in Philippine volleyball, PSL president Ramon Suzara, said the explosion of online streaming and social media have kicked the floodgates of Thai volleyball wide open for Filipino players to enter.

He said ranking Thai executives are closely monitoring the situation in the PSL, leading to the potential recruitment of Jaja Santiago of Foton, Kim Fajardo and Aby Marano of F2 Logistics and Jovelyn Gonzaga of RC Cola-Army for the Thai-Denmark Super League in March.

Aside from that, Suzara also enjoys good working relationship with ranking Thai volleyball officials, including Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) secretary general Shanrit Wongprasert, a revered figure who is regarded as the father of Thai volleyball.

That’s why Thai officials readily agreed when the PSL borrowed rising star Tichaya Boonlert to serve as the starting playmaker of PSL Manila in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship. Bangkok also serves as haven for training and competitive exposure among Filipino clubs and university teams.

With all these great developments, Suzara believes that the country’s chances in the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in August would also get a major boost.

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Foes to friends

The Philippines and Thailand have a bitter history in the regional stage.

Since the birth of the Games in 1977, the Philippines ruled it with an iron hand, winning three straight gold medals before Indonesia dethroned it in 1983 only to win it again in 1985 and 1987 in Jakarta and Bangkok, respectively.

But the Filipinas’ dominance didn’t last long.

Thailand made a gallant stand and ruled the 1989 edition in Kuala Lumpur while the Philippines was pushed out of the medal podium, prompting Suzara, then the secretary general of the local volleyball federation, to plot a three-year program in a bid to regain the gold medal in the 1993 biennial meet.

They tapped Russian coach Stav Lugailo to run the program with assistant coaches Sammy Acaylar and Emil Lontoc being assigned to comb the countryside for gems in the rough.

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Correct move

The program proved to be a success.

Bannered by Zenaida Ybanez-Chavez and Thelma Barina-Rojas, the Philippines knocked the crown off the heads of the Thais in the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore.

The Thais took the setback seriously.

Wongprasert, who used to be the president of Thailand Volleyball Association, vowed to wage a major revenge in their home-court in the province of Chiang Mai in 1995.

The Filipinas failed to handle the pressure in a hostile territory as hundreds of Thai fans made their presence felt with all the jeering and heckling for the visiting team.

The Thais won the gold medal and didn’t relinquish the throne as they won the next nine gold medals, thanks to their rock-solid training and recruitment program that gave birth to the Pleumjit Thinkaows, Nootsara Tomkums and Wilavan Apinyapongs of today and the Onuma Sittiraks, Pornpun Guedpards, Pimpichaya

Kokrams and Boonlerts of tomorrow.

Everything is now water under the bridge.

With the good relationship between Suzara and Wongprasert, it didn’t take long for the two powerhouse countries to become sister teams in the world stage.

[quote]Thailand and the Philippines may have a colorful history in the SEA Games, but in the end, both countries are still willing to help each other. We’re two countries united by our love for volleyball.[/quote]

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High hopes

Filipino clubs have yet to emerge victorious over the Thais since the dramatic gold-medal game of the 1995 SEA Games in Chiang Mai.

Although RC Cola-Army dominated the Thai juniors team in the finals of the PSL Invitational Conference early this year, Suzara strongly believes that it’s only a matter of time before they could completely solve this great Thai riddle. And that improvement is expected to be felt when the country marches to the SEA Games next year.

[quote]Sending players to Thailand would not only improve our players, but will also serve as a great opportunity for us to get to know more about their (Thais) volleyball program. As we know, we’re having hard time beating the Thais. I hope this exposure would help us in our preparation for the SEA Games and the Asian Championships.[/quote]

The Philippines had a sorry performance in its return to the SEA Games last year after a decade of absence.

Its lone victory came at the expense of a young Malaysian side, a sorry result after claiming the bronze medal in the 2004 SEA Games in Bacolod City.

Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) would kick off the formation of the national team next month starting with the selection of a national coach. It would also launch massive tryouts in key cities like Manila, Cebu and Davao and is set to come up with six to seven months of intensive local and international training.

Suzara said an honest-to-goodness buildup laced with the experience gained by local stars from their exposure in Thailand would serve as ingredients in coming up with a respectable finish in the SEA Games.

But right now, all we could do is to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.