Hopes were high when Kalei Mau set foot in the Philippines last year.
A standout from the US NCAA suiting up for the University of Arizona with playing experiences for clubs in Puerto Rico and France, the 24-year old outside hitter immediately made waves during her first two Philippine SuperLiga (PSL) stints with the now-disbanded United Volleyball Club.
Standing at 6-foot-2 with a mean arm swing, Mau has the height, the power, and the defense — she was everything the country’s women’s volleyball national team has been waiting for to beef up its quest for international success.
And when the Filipina-Hawaiian secured a Philippine passport in March that made her a dual citizen, the volleyball community rejoiced as another firepower was added to its arsenal that was composed of Alyssa Valdez, Jaja Santiago, and Mylene Paat.
Mau was deemed worthy diagonal for Valdez, arguably the country’s top gun especially with Santiago not seeing national team action due to schedule conflicts between the Japanese V.Premiere League and the Games.
While Valdez has the speed, Mau has the power. While Mau has the height, Valdez has the experience with the national team. While Valdez has the familiarity playing against the Thais, Vietnamese and Indonesians, Mau brings the surprise factor.
It was like a match made in heaven.
As if Santiago’s absence was not big of a deal enough, the Philippines received another blow when Mau was deemed ineligible to play for the highly-anticipated tournament.
This, as she failed to secure clearance from the University States Volleyball Association in compliance with the FIVB rules allowing her to change Federation and don the tricolors.
Now, head coach Shaq delos Santos has to find the perfect player to fill the large void left by Mau.
Ideally, Sisi Rondina and Myla Pablo could be the right players to take the position as both are explosive hitters with decent passes.
Pablo has suited up with Valdez back in 2015 for the Asian U23 Championship, while Rondina’s incredible skill set on top of infectious attitude on the court may largely benefit the team.
But the problem is, neither was included in the 15-woman lineup. In fact, Pablo wasn’t even in the first released roster this year while Rondina has already set her sights on beach volleyball.
Aside from Valdez, there were only two remaining and natural open spiker in the squad: Ces Molina and Eya Laure.
Molina and Laure may not have Mau’s sheer power, but they are very skilled in their own rights, thus making either of the two equally worthy.
Molina saw the most action in the open spiker position during the first and second legs of 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix, so she could be the possible starting spiker together with Mau.
Laure may not be usually a starter but she almost always deliver whenever her name was called. She has more firepower against Molina, but the latter has better pass — an area that the national team has been trying to perfect in years.
But that won’t be answered at least until SEA Games, where they’ll go up against powerful wing spikers Thailand’s Onuma Sittirak, Indonesia’s April Manganang and Tran Thi Thanh Thuy of Vietnam.
For now, the dream Valdez-Mau combination would have to wait.
Hopefully, next year, no conflicts will further hinder the two spikers from conspiring alongside Santiago and the rest of the dedicated national team.
Hopefully, it will be realized and not remain as is — a dream.