Who should be in the first six for the SEA Games? (Part 1)

Highlights – Al Hilal vs Al Sadd

(first of two parts)

After months of build-up, the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) has finally unveiled the 14-woman strong lineup that will see action in the forthcoming and highly-anticipated 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games next month. 

Headlining the troop that seeks to end the country’s 14-year medal drought in the sport are team captain Aby Maraño and mainstays Alyssa Valdez, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Jia Morado, and Dawn Macandili along with newbloods in Kalei Mau, Eya Laure and Maddie Madayag to name a few. 

READ — Valdez, Gonzaga, Maraño banner PH team in SEA Games as Dimaculangan, Reyes return

Noticeably missing from the 2017 fourth-placer roster are Jaja Santiago, Kim Fajardo, Maika Ortiz, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Geneveve Casugod — all out of the November 30 to December 11 event due to various reasons.

But while this was the case, the Nationals, who are fresh from a back-to-back bronze-winning stint in the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix, are still tipped to give its neighbors and powerhouse teams Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam a run for their money — this time on home soil. 

For that to happen, though, national team head coach Shaq delos Santos has to find the right set of players to field in the taraflex, and given how much talent the current lineup has, the mentor will have a hard time making the selection.

In a round-table discussion, FOX Sports Philippines made a possible starting unit of the national team based on the individual performances of the players from their recent local and international stint.

OUTSIDE HITTERS

Anton Onato: Alyssa Valdez and Kalei Mau

Valdez is the most logical choice for the first outside hitter post among the four available spikers for the same position. She is not only the most experienced in terms of international exposures, she also is a clutch player – one who could deliver when it matters the most. This has been proven time and again, notably in recent memory against Vietnam during the first set of the ASEAN Grand Prix second leg. 

While she had mishaps on the defensive ends during the said tourney, especially on first balls, Alyssa is a relatively steady floor defender, not to mention that she can hit from the pipe as precise as possible. 

Mau, meanwhile, can provide the additional firepower from the outside hitter spot as we all know by now what she can bring to the table. Aside from her lethal attacks from all over the court, her height is also an advantage in defending the net, especially in going against strong opposite hitters from the opposing teams. 

The F2 Cargo Mover spiker, though, needs to catch up big time when it comes to defending the floor. Just like Valdez, we saw that Mau can be a liability when she’s in the backline. But overall, Mau has had excellent contributions to the national team in the ASEAN Grand Prix first leg. 

Denver Del Rosario: Alyssa Valdez and Kalei Mau

Right now there is no possible first six for the national team without Alyssa Valdez in it. In terms of skill set and international familiarity, you can never go wrong with the Phenom. But while her reliability from the open and composure in pressure-packed situations are given, what should be pointed out is her effective craftsmanship whenever the squad plays out of system.

This is important to note as the Philippine team, seen in their recent campaign in the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix, struggled most of the time in reception and converting from transition plays. Even when the first ball was off, setter Jia Morado still pushed the ball to Valdez–be it a combination play or merely setting to the open–and she would find a way to score. With the nationals still finding their defensive rhythm, Valdez’ out-of-system dexterity will prove useful and needed.

What cannot happen for the open spiker is to have a slow start as this would mean trouble for the tricolor squad. Dropping the first set against Indonesia in the second leg is proof of this, with Valdez failing to score a single point in the opening salvo. The Phenom also has to step up in floor defense as seen in her various lapses in the Grand Prix. Teams have already scouted Valdez would try to exhaust her in the defensive end as much as they could.

The other open spiker slot would have to go to Kalei Mau, a newcomer both to the tricolor squad and the Southeast Asian Games. While both her and Ces Molina averaged 14.33 points in the first leg, Mau’s powerful form and attacking efficiency puts her over the top; not to mention her height that would prove an asset against opposing blockers and also bolster the team’s much-improved net defense.

Another good thing about Mau is that other teams are still relatively unfamiliar with her game, compared to the likes of Valdez and Mylene Paat. However, this could go either way, as we are talking about fast-adjusting squads like Thailand.

Like Valdez, Mau has to work on her floor defense especially in the digging department, as shown in her recent showing in the opening leg of the ASEAN Grand Prix. We have yet to see the two open spikers collaborate together in a single game, as Valdez missed the first leg and Mau the second.

Edward Lopez: Alyssa Valdez and Kalei Mau

Valdez is a proven clutch. Faulty reception and shaky play? Send the ball to Valdez and she’ll find a way to score. Opponent at set point? Give the ball to Valdez and she’ll delay their win. The team needs someone with superb killer instinct, especially during long rallies, and Valdez is the woman for the job.

Of the two, Valdez is the more experienced donning the tricolors. Thus, expect that she will be more marked. The Thais, Vietnamese and Indonesians have faced her numerous times already, and while this could also play in favor of the Philippines, this could also mean that they will be more prepared for her. 

That’s when Mau comes in. A fresh face in the national team, Mau’s presence could be our “surprise factor”, like when Indonesia skipped AVC tournaments in 2015 to keep April Manganang from being scouted. Come SEA Games that same year, the Indonesians made waves en route to a bronze medal finish. Mau could be the Philippines’ card to catch its opponents off guard.

We have yet to see what the two ace spikers can bring for the national together as Valdez missed the first leg of the Grand Prix due to ankle injury while Mau skipped the second to nurse an Achilles pain. But if their recent local and international performances were any indications, a Valdez-Mau tandem is a surefire hit for the country.

Mau amassed 43 markers off 39 kills, two blocks and two aces for an average 14.33 hits per match in Leg 1 on her first national team stint. Valdez, meanwhile, scored 27 tallies in Leg 2, averaging 13.5 points per outing in two games played.

But while their scoring prowess is unquestionable, Valdez and Mau have to put double efforts on their reception and floor defense as they will be the primary targets of their opponents from the service line. 

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

Anton: Majoy Baron and Mika Reyes

Baron is not our strongest middle attacker, but she is the most efficient. This has been proven by the La Salle standout as she bested other middle blockers in the region by bagging the best middle blocker awards in the first and second leg of the ASEAN Grand Prix. 

What is noteworthy about Baron is that while her spikes are not as booming as other middle hitters, she can hit it with so much finesse that even a great floor defender could not contain. Baron’s service is also an asset as she can score from this department or rattle the reception of the other team. 

Along with Baron, Mika Reyes is the next choice to man the middle position. Aside from her length, Reyes has a loaded resume when it comes to representing the country in international tourneys. Because of this, she is already familiar with other middle blockers from the region and she knows too well how to adjust in defending them. 

Just like Baron, Reyes knows when to go for a hard or soft ball. Her mantra of play is that a point is a point regardless if it’s a thunderous spike or just a power tip. 

The duo will surely bring their Taft power when they go up against equally-talented middle blockers from the region.

Denver: Majoy Baron and Maddie Madayag

One of our national team’s most improved skill would be their blocking, as shown all throughout the ASEAN Grand Prix. For the past tournaments, our net defense has been lacking, easily fooled by the opposing team’s combination plays and could only go so far as to deflect the ball. But now, the Philippine team has been showing their blocking prowess, getting kill blocks every now and then. 

Majoy Baron is arguably the center of our defensive uprising, evident in her back-to-back Best Middle Blocker awards in the ASEAN Grand Prix. She is undoubtedly the best player to lead our net defense. While she is not the sharpest attacker in the team, some can argue that power is not everything for a middle blocker–focus and precision are.

It is a tough toss-up for the second middle blocker between Aby Marano and Maddie Madayag, a contrast of experience and skill set. But given the team’s current needs, Madayag would seem as the better option; her height, blocking skills, and especially her solid attacking form will prove useful for the Philippines, as they have to consider other spiking options to take away pressure from the wing spikers.

Both Baron and Madayag have the potential to do wonders for the tricolor squad. The most important thing for them is to get established early on in the game, in order to fish out blockers and give way for their outside hitters. Setter-spiker connection would also prove crucial for both players, as the competition will likely force them into out-of-system plays. 

Edward: Majoy Baron and Maddie Madayag

Had Jaja Santiago been cleared to play, she would have — no doubt — taken one spot in the middle blocker positions. But without her, the Philippines’ best option to guard the net are Majoy Baron and Maddie Madayag.

Baron is not our most powerful attacker, but she is arguably the most efficient in her field of expertise — blockings. Her back-to-back Best Blocker win should be enough proof for this.

What she may lack in power, she makes up with her uncanny ability to protect the net, further helping the floor defenders by slowing down the opponent’s spikes. Plus, power has never been the basis for a good middle blocker — precision is.

The logical choice for the second middle blocker would be Madayag. Though her time playing in the Grand Prix was limited, it was enough to showcase what a Madayag inside the court can do. She has the height, the net defense, but more importantly, the killer running spike.

Inevitably, there will be rotations when only two attackers are in front with the setter. Madayag going for a slide attack should draw blockers away from either Mau or Valdez, thus ideally increasing their attack efficiency.

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