After seeing her play in the 2017 Annual Princess Maja Chakri Sirindhorn’s Cup in Sisaket, Thailand recently, the clamor for Filipino-American spiker MJ Philips to join the national team grew even louder.
Who’s her top booster?
No other than her head coach, Sammy Acaylar.
Acaylar, the head coach of the men’s national team who also calls the shot for Sta. Lucia Realty in the Philippine Superliga (PSL), remains firm on his belief that Philips deserves to be part of the national squad when the country hosts the 30th Southeast Asian Games in 2019.
He said Philips is slowly getting used to the Filipino brand of volleyball and she would surely be ready in major international tourneys, including the AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship and the biennial meet.
Philips is very capable of playing for the Nationals.
Her mother is a Filipina while her father is a former American serviceman who was stationed in the American military base in Zambales. The couple, however, migrated to California where Philips was born.
Acaylar said donning the national colors would be a dream-come-true for the power-hitting spiker.
“She came here with only one thing in mind: To represent the country in major international tournaments.”
“As we saw with her performance in Thailand, she blends seamlessly with other Filipino players. She’s very coachable and eager to learn. She’s slowly adjusting and will be on top of her game if she would be given proper training and foreign exposure.”
“In fact, she was so happy when she learned that she was invited to play (with the PSL stars) in Thailand. Her reaction was priceless.”
Acaylar said he’s very proud seeing his ward do well in the international arena.
In the Sisaket tourney, Philips played behind national team member Frances Molina and veteran Royse Tubino at the open spiker spot, but it didn’t matter as she had flashes of brilliance, giving fans a glimpse of what to expect from her in the future.
Observers said her 6-foot frame, leaping ability, timing at the net and overall discipline on defense would be her weapons to crack into the elite squad.
But before making the national team, she has to outplay – and outwork – a stellar cast of homegrown players.
Alyssa Valdez, a media darling and fan-favorite, is the top choice as open hitter while Molina is not far behind. Of course, Myla Pablo, Ara Galang and Elaine Kasilag should also be in the mix as well as veterans Rachel Anne Daquis and Tubino, whose strong plays led the PSL All-Star squad to the bronze medal of the Sisaket tourney.
And Acaylar acknowledges that.
“I know that there are a lot of good players in her position. But I’m confident that she’s working hard to improve her game to make it to the national team.”
Acaylar, who was part of the coaching staff when the Nationals won the gold medal in the Singapore SEA Games in 1993, added that he would gladly turn Philips over to the national team if ever she would be given the call.
“Of course, why not?”
“Serving through volleyball is our responsibility to the country. If half-Filipino players like MJ and Rebecca (Rivera) are very much willing to serve and play for the country, who am I to stand in the way?”
“Rest assured that I will gladly turn her over and encourage her to do well and make the country proud. Aside from being a great honor, it is also our responsibility to play for our motherland when an opportunity arises.”