More than the blazing offense, more than the airtight defense and all-out hustle, there’s one thing that the national women’s team displayed to crush Hong Kong in its first match in the 19th AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship Wednesday at the Alonte Sports Center.
It’s a weapon that was harnessed and molded to perfection in a quiet, closed-door dungeon hundred miles away from home.
Yes, these Nationals had proven that there’s no person bigger than the team.
Against Hong Kong, everybody did their respective roles.
Alyssa Valdez and Jaja Santiago embraced their role as main gunners with Ces Molina acting as an effective backup. Denden Lazaro and Dawn Macandili were the hungry wolves at the backline while Kim Fajardo was the playmaker, the main conductor of this beautiful orchestra.
Team captain Mika Reyes, Maika Ortiz, Aby Maraño, Gen Casugod took charge of defending the net while veteran opposites Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Jovelyn Gonzaga kept the defense guessing from start to finish.
It was an all-out team effort.
It was the reward for their sacrifices in Japan.
The training camp in three Japanese cities was designed to establish chemistry among members of the national team.
Head coach Francis Vicente, the former University of Santo Tomas guru who knows most of these players like the back of his hand, put special premium on teamwork, camaraderie, and unity during their 17-day foreign training.
All of the players were given various roles and played it perfectly.
Reyes was the leader who was tasked to cascade and implement all of Vicente’s orders, including the supervision of room assignment and designation of who will carry the big icebox from the room to the bus to the competition venue.
As soon as they hopped into the bus, assistant coaches Kungfu Reyes and Brian Esquibel would rattle off a handful of corny jokes that would put everybody in stitches and somehow ease the homesickness and stress of their weary bodies.
The team’s bond was so tight that saying goodbye at the end of the camp was the hardest thing to do.
They became good friends on and off the court.
At one point, during a shopping trip in the team’s free time, the group of Marano, Macandili, Maizo-Pontillas, Dimaculangan and Ortiz got lost in the thick weekend crowd.
But nobody wanted to leave — not until all 14 members of the team are present.
A team official who was part of that camp said what the Nationals displayed on the court against Hong Kong was the result of the friendship and camaraderie they developed in Japan.
“Their training in Japan may not be perfect, but it definitely molded the character of these players. Their performance against Hong Kong yesterday reflects the bond and friendship they developed there.”
Test of character
But the match against Hong Kong is just a mere appetizer.
Vicente admitted that their next assignment – Kazakhstan – on Friday would serve as a great test to their character.
The Kazakhs, in fact, were in the gallery during the Philippines-Hong Kong tiff armed with notebooks and clipboards to take down notes and study the host country’s strategies. Their head coach, seasoned international coach Vyacheslav Shapran, was seen moving from one seat to another after every set to get a good look at how Vicente was running the plays.
Should the Kazakhs prevail over Hong Kong, the Philippines would advance to the second round where it will join the top two qualifiers in Pool E composed of South Korea, Vietnam, Maldives and New Zealand.
Vicente stressed that they will bank on their teamwork, which is serving as their ultimate weapon.
“Everybody should do their respective roles. We just can’t rely on one player alone.”
“Everybody should work hard. We’re not playing for ourselves – we’re playing for the country. We’re wearing the flag of the Philippines on our chest.”
Against Hong Kong, Valdez starred in the scoring department with 13 attacks and a block for 14 points while Santiago had 11 attacks and two blocks for 13 markers.
Fajardo was also impressive notching five kills, two aces and 26 of the team’s 39 excellent sets.
But those numbers do not matter anymore.
Individual glory no longer flatters these national players.
For them, talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.