Head coach Francis Vicente said they have already informed the organizers about their decision during the preliminary inquiry shortly after arriving from a four-hour flight from Manila on Saturday.
He said they want Lazaro to be part of the team, but her health is their main priority since she has yet to fully recover from a pulled hamstring that she suffered in an exhibition match a day before the national squad embarked on a 17-day training in Japan.
This could have been Lazaro’s second SEA Game stint after seeing action in the Singapore edition in 2015 where the Nationals suffered their lowest finish ever at fifth place.
She would join Kim Kianna Dy in the sidelines when the Philippines opens its campaign against Malaysia on Friday and against Vietnam on Saturday at the MITEC Hall 1 in this booming Malaysian capital.
“We know how hard she (Lazaro) worked and how eager she is in representing the country in this tournament. But her health is our top priority. She would serve as a crucial part of the national team in the next three years and we don’t want to further aggravate her injury by fielding her in a very competitive tournament such as the SEA Games.”
The switch seems to be a very logical move.
Macandili, a prized libero from La Salle, is coming off an impressive performance in the 19th AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship in Binan City where she was named 2nd Best Libero after the Nationals emerged with an eighth-place finish.
Prior to that, she had a great training camp in Japan where no less than noted Japanese coach Akiyoshi Kawamoto stressed that she has the making of a “world-class libero.”
On the other hand, Lazaro appears to remain in pain.
Her movements are still limited and the defensive agility and fluidity that made her one of the country’s best defenders are not yet there, prompting Vicente to give the lion’s share of the minutes to Macandili all throughout the Asian Seniors tourney.
Vicente said the SEA Games is a very short tournament and they are looking to come up with a strong start – and an even stronger finish.
“We only have four games; two games in the group stage, a game in the semis and another in the finals. Every game is very important and we need all players to play their hearts out from start to finish.”
Also in the final roster are team captain Mika Reyes, Abigail Marano, Kim Fajardo, Gen Casugod, Jaja Santiago, Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Ces Molina, Alyssa Valdez and Jovelyn Gonzaga.
The squad is looking to come up with a podium finish for the first time since the country hosted the SEA Games in 2005.