SEA Games volleyball team: Who will make the cut?

MANILA, Philippines - About 3 months ago, a solid core of SuperLiga stars - collectively known as the ‘Magnificent 7’- got a first-hand feel of what it was like to step on the world club stage. 

Rachel Anne Daquis, Mika Reyes, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Ces Molina, Jaja Santiago, Jen Reyes, and Kim Fajardo got to revert to their starstruck selves while playing in the Women’s Club World Championship. It’s not every day that you get to compete in the same stadium as Olympic champions. It’s not every day you see some of our rising collegiate stars earning a nod of approval from renowned international coaches, either.

The tournament itself may have been a losing battle for PSL-F2 Logistics Manila, but the worldwide recognition of the Filipina players’ gallant effort and daring potential seemed to be enough for the lucky 7 golden ticket holders. 

Fast forward to 2017, where a curious volleyball fan writes on social media: will the same 7 remain intact as our core lineup for the Malaysian Southeast Asian Games this August?

Anybody’s game 

As it turns out, a coveted slot for the national team lineup could be up for grabs. Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc (LVPI) is reportedly looking to form a balanced mix of the nation’s best youngsters and veterans - nevermind what school or league they play for. Before January ends, a beefed-up roster- possibly with representatives from the NCAA, UAAP, PSL, and V-League - is expected to be announced to the public. PSL President Ramon Suzara remained in full of support of the idea. 

“We are very supportive to the plans of program of LVPI. This is our way of giving it back to the federation,” shared Suzara. 

With the appointment of the new national team coach expected to take place in a few days, the much anticipated open tryouts for a SEA Games ticket also loom in the distance. But with a promising roster spread over the collegiate and professional leagues, a spectator can’t help but ask: what will LVPI’s criteria be in choosing the cream of the crop in Philippine volleyball? 

Youth and experience are a given as positives. With 6 slots available each for the seasoned and starting out, it’s hard to think of how a coach could narrow down a promising group of talent. Participating in the SEA games is not an easy task, but coming up with the best lineup is a different story.  

A perfect team is not always about having the strongest, most explosive players; sometimes you have to look for the perfect albeit smaller missing piece to complete the puzzle. 

As the country aims to eventually land a podium finish, forming the national squad could possibly boil down to two things: height and heart. 

Strong offense can take you places, but it’s efficient defense that win you titles. Like it or not, height is still regarded as a major defensive advantage for the sport. It wouldn’t come out as a surprise if the National University’s twin towers Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat led the way for the Philippine squad. 

In pursuit of the best possible lineup, LVPI will soon commence the search for the most ‘committed’ players- those who are willing to sacrifice a huge chunk of their time and effort to help the country grab the gold. Needless to say, a never-say-die, fight for every point attitude is a must. 

Having prior exposure at the games, 2015 flag bearer Alyssa Valdez and team captain Jovelyn Gonzaga of Army remain to be strong contenders. Aby Marano, who was named the first best middle blocker thrice in the PSL last year, rightfully joins in the conversation for her cutthroat defense and aggressive attacks.

Setter Rhea Dimaculangan and opposite spiker Aiza Maizo-Pontillas both had an eventful year in the Super Liga for Foton and Petron respectively, and are likewise eyed to vie for a national team seat. 

Aside from Reyes and Fajardo, Ara Galang and Dawn Macandili from the DLSU championship team both had a phenomenal 2016. Galang overcame a massive knee injury, went on to win a UAAP title, and got selected as the top overall pick in the PSL Draft all in one year. The young Macandili, on the other hand, cemented her status as one of the rising liberos in the country after bagging numerous special awards - including the All-Filipino Most Valuable Player - in the UAAP and PSL. 

Commitment is key 

With nothing set in stone, one’s guess of who will make this year's cut is just as good as mine. Will the Magnificent 7 remain intact? Who will complete the SEA Games women's volleyball dream team?

At the end of the day, it will come down to who wants it more. 

For now, all we can do is wait and trust that whatever happens will be for the best interest of the country. – Rappler.com