Top five female setters in the Philippines

Tuesday, 21 Nov 2017
Johnfhil Valdellon - Writer - @grebennilazaro

 Aside from the libero, the other non-scoring, starting position in volleyball is the setter. Despite playing under the radar, the setters are considered by most as the most significant position in the sport, because it is them who orchestrates the team’s offensive rhythm.

And in this period of Philippine volleyball renaissance, we couldn’t help but recognize our country’s top five setters today.

Honorable mentions include Gyzelle Sy, Jem Ferrer, Ruby De Leon, Chie Saet, and Wendy Ann Semana.

Jasmine Nabor

Current team: NU Lady Bulldogs (UAAP) / BaliPure Purest Water Defenders (PVL)

If there’s one thing that makes the Tarlac-native unique among her rivals, it’s her great attacking prowess. Equipped with a 5’8 frame and a broad jump, Jasmine Nabor’s truly has an advantage in being left-handed as she is always in a comfortable position to hit the ball on unexpected angles.

She started her UAAP career in Season 78 when she played as an opposite spiker, only to be reverted back to the original position she played in high school, a setter, the following season. In spite of the lack of experience compared to other athletes in this list, she has managed to bag a PVL Best Setter award, along with two Finals MVP accolades with National University.

She’s one of the few setters who’s managed to establish a connection with star Jaja Santiago, making a deadly tandem.

Rhea Dimaculangan

Photo courtesy of Noel Monzales, Volleyball PH

Current team: Petron Lady Blaze Spikers (PSL)

The Espana Express would not be called as such without recognizing its star setter, Rhea Dimaculangan. Together with Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Maika Ortiz, she was part of the last UST line-up to conquer the UAAP in Season 72. She was also hailed as that season’s Best Server and Finals MVP.

With her excellent decision-making skills and loaded serves, Rhea Dimaculangan has been a regular part of the Philippine national women’s volleyball team. Her stint outside the UAAP has also brought success with another Finals MVP award and four Best Setter awards.

She’s notable for being one of the few names on this list that can do high, moonball and low, fast sets interchangeably without sacrificing accuracy and creativity. She’s not one of the flashy setters out there, but she’s definitely one of the most consistent and dependable.

Kim Fajardo

Photo courtesy of Rave Sengco, Volleyball PH

Current team: F2 Logistics Cargo Movers (PSL)

It’s possible that Kim Fajardo’s setter to spiker conversion in high school is one of the most beautiful things to have happened in Philippine volleyball. She is the epitome of the modern-day Filipino setter armed with high and tricky sets along with heavy serves and good attacks.

Despite being both a three-time UAAP champion and Best Setter recipient, it is her stint in the 2016 FIVB World Club Championships that made foreign coaches notice the Filipina brand of playmaking. With KAF, it is not impossible for us to see a Filipina setter playing abroad showcasing our own style of setting.

She’s one of the country’s best servers, as she took the last UAAP Best Server award. She has a good eye on digging right wing spikes, a good touch on zero-tempo sets, although she must still learn the virtue of composure in pressure-packed situations.

Tina Salak

Photo courtesy of Noel Monzales, Volleyball PH

Current team: Cocolife Asset Managers (PSL)

Tina Salak almost did not make this list for two reasons. First, she previously announced her retirement only to come back for the 2017 edition of PSL Grand Prix. Secondly, a position in a Top 5 list doesn’t do her legendary status justice, having being part of the last Philippine team to win a medal in SEA Games – a bronze in the 2005 meet held in Bacolod.

She is undeniably a legend who has achieved many impressive feats throughout her colorful volleyball career. A mainstay of the Philippine Army for approximately a decade, she just proved that her passion for the sport lives on by returning to the court, following her retirement, to possibly steer Cocolife to its first PSL crown.

With her towering height, Salak has excellent blocking skills that took effect against Sutadta and the visiting Thai team that Tina and Army clamored in four intense sets. Her 25-year experience and high volleyball IQ also manifest in her placement serves that disrupt opponents’ plays.

Lastly, like Rhea Dimaculangan, Tina Salak is one of the very few Filipina setters who can deliver both high and low, fast sets with equal quality.

Jia Morado

Photo courtesy of Noel Monzales, Volleyball PH

Current team: Creamline Cool Smashers (PVL)

With Jia Morado’s magical touches, the improbable happened as her rookie-laden Ateneo Lady Eagles team slowly climbed up the UAAP Season 76 stepladder by beating favorites Adamson Lady Falcons and NU Lady Bulldogs on the way to the finals where they emerged from the battlefield as victors after defeating DLSU Lady Spikers.

Under the guidance of Thai coach Anusorn Bundit, Jia Morado grew to be the elite setter that she is right now. She triumphed against Kim Fajardo in the Best Setter race in Season 77, when Ateneo also made the 16-0 sweep of the tournament. She later represented the country twice that year – first as the solitary setter in the 2015 U23 tournament and as the starting setter in the 28th edition of the SEA Games in Singapore, where she placed first in setting at the end of the eliminations.

Jia Morado might not have the height that most coaches want for a setter, but she surely the skills that have allowed other not-so-tall setters to dominate the international arena. Her serves just got sharper not to mention she places it very well. Jia has also proven that she got excellent floor defense, teaming up with Gizelle Tan to be one of the most versatile setter-libero tandems in the UAAP. Her dropballs and 1-2 plays were amazingly beautiful too, always making every match like an exhibition game.

She might be a liability in blocking. However, it is not blocking that makes a setter excellent, but obviously, her setting. In the country, Jia does the lowest and quickest sets, without sacrificing grace, prudence, precision and accuracy. In addition, her magic touches have been proven to be able to convert bad passes into excellent sets – a testament of her athleticism and commitment to the very essence of being a setter.

The former Ateneo captain has ‘fingers of steel’, bringing into the game her composure which enables her to bring out the best in her teammates even in the hardest of situations.