Its first match against Hongkong may be light, but the national women’s volleyball team remains cautious, knowing that a single setback would push them out of their initial goal – and ultimately out of contention — in the 19th AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship which fires off Wednesday at Alonte Sports Center.
Head coach Francis Vicente reiterated that their goal is to make it to the quarterfinals, which is a major upgrade from their 12th place finish in the tourney’s previous edition in Tianjin, China in 2015.
But more than that, making it to the Round of 8 will send them to the AVC Asian Championship next year, giving them another fresh opportunity to battle Asian supremos like China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
The Philippines is bracketed in Pool A with Hongkong and Kazakhstan in this 14-squad tournament.
Under the league format, the lowest team in every pool would be booted out of title contention and be relegated to the classification battle for 9th to 14th places.
The top two squads in Pool A, meanwhile, will join the top two teams in Pool C in Pool E while the top two finishers in Pools B and D will mix it up in Pool F in the second round.
From there, the Nationals’ mettle would be greatly tested as powerhouse South Korea and Vietnam are tipped to advance in Pool C.
Vicente knows that a victory over Hongkong would serve as key to this grueling journey.
“It is a very important game for the Philippines, especially if it wants to enter the quarterfinals. We really need to win over Hongkong.”
“Alam naman natin na ang Hongkong kahit papano is naga-upgrade na din. Pero I believe in the team itself. Alam ko may pupuntahan kami. Ayaw ko lang mag-conclude but I’m very confident that we can make it to the quarterfinals, which is our main goal.”
Hongkong would be an easy foe.
The spikers from the former crown colony barely made an impact in their previous matches against the Nationals.
Even the Philippine Superliga (PSL) All-Star squad clobbered them in a friendly match last year.
But for Vicente, their biggest challenge isn’t Hongkong.
“There is a lot of pressure.”
“Yung mga umaasang papasok tayo sa quarterfinals, yun ang pressure. So kailangan lang is ma-apply namin yung mga natutunan abroad. We just have to relax. Wag mag-isip ng kung ano-ano. Basta maglaro lang at pilitin manalo.”
Vicente added that he is living up to the pressure and he is keeping his wards focused as the tourney draws near.
Aside from locking them up in a hotel as soon as they arrived from a 17-day training camp in Japan, he also minimized their communication with the outside world and limited their appearances only to the pre-tournament publicity and buildups.
“Pasensya na sa media kung medyo naghihigpit ako kasi gusto ko hanggat maari eh naka-focus sila para hindi mawala ang natutunan namin sa Japan sa puso at isipan nila.”
“Yun ang purpose nun, hindi natin aalisin ang attachment sa players pero naka-focus sila para umabot tayo sa gusto natin mangyari.”
Vicente said he knows that making it back to international prominence is not an overnight process.
But he’s glad that they are at least taking the first few steps.
“Mahirap din yun sa part ng mga players, syempre they are trying their best to meet the expectations of the fans, so kailangan talaga maging patient tayo in their growth and development. Hindi pwedeng mabilisan. It takes a lot para umabot tayo sa rurok ng tagumpay.”