Sizing up the PH women’s volleyball team

June 15, 2017

by: Tex Suter

(Mika Reyes, Jaja Santiago, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Denden Lazaro, Alyssa Valdez)
(Mika Reyes, Jaja Santiago, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Denden Lazaro, Alyssa Valdez)

 

The lineup of the national women’s volleyball squad for the SEA Games and Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship was recently revealed. Volleyball evangelist Tex Suter gives us his two cents on the players at each position.

 

The LVPI released its roster that showcases some of the country’s best talents in the realm of women’s volleyball. Let us dissect the team as I give my thoughts on each player by position. I will touch on what I think are their strengths, and of course their weaknesses as well. Let us discuss this team as I see it and let’s talk volleyball!

We begin with the setters, which I refer to as the maestros of the team. Coach Francis Vicente will tell his setters what symphony he wants them to perform, and the setters execute the game plan. We begin with UAAP champion Kim Fajardo.

Kim is a rare talent, as she is often called the heir apparent to Tina Salak. Tina was one of the best I have seen, and Kim has big shoes to fill. Kim runs a nice tempo offense and has good misdirection sets that give her hitters more angles to work with. The double-edged sword with her is that she is young. She still lacks the seasoning needed for international competition, as the setting at that level is so creative and logical. Kim, in my opinion, still lacks that creativity but she will get there.

She is a young talent and has so much potential. She just needs to work on a few technical issues with her feet, especially when she jump sets. Her sets tend to drift closer to the net as the point gets longer. That could be a sign of getting to the ball progressive later as the point plays on. She must also be mentally ready for passes that are not so perfect, but still make her middles look like viable options. Lastly, she must resist attacking on two as much as possible. If she looks at her lineup, she has enough weapons.

Now we look at Rhea Dimaculangan. The veteran setter has good technical skills, but tends to be “outside oriented” in multiple transition chances. We all know of the DMac to Ortiz connection, but she now needs to have that connection with her whole team. She also needs to realize match-ups at the net, especially with Jaja on the court. Don’t go to Jaja exclusively and trust your other options. Rhea must also maintain team tempo and not slow it down to accommodate hitters. Make the hitter adjust to you. As the setter, you must control your team and not be intimidated by current stature. Be the floor general because that is what you are.

I notice her looking to what her hitters want. She should browse the blockers across the net, and come up with a play that increases the odds of scoring. That is her job. Rhea needs to leave her comfort zone, and trust her talent, she is not lacking there. Both setters need to move their hitters around constantly and keep the defense guessing where the attack is coming from.

Here now are the opposites or the right side hitters. First is Aiza Maizo-Pontillas. This veteran has been in many battles. One of her talents is her creativity. Great set, bad set, she will hit it and give her team a chance to score. Where I believe she may hurt the team is in long transition games. She seemingly fades, and her arm drifts from her body a little. That is a sign that she is trying to generate more power. What really happens is that the spike trajectory is lower, thus easier to block.

Jovy Gonzaga is the next player we will discuss. This soft spoken young lady is deceptively slow. This means she seems slow, and before you know it the ball is gone. I believe she is the most versatile opposite as of now. She can run fast tempo if needed, and is hard to check on the second option curl. That explosive last step is technically effective, as that is what is taught at the high school level.

What do we see as her pitfalls? She tends to sag too deep when covering zone 1, and gets caught there. She retreats too quickly, and the offense can see her doing it. She needs to play cat and mouse with the offense and move around so they have to guess. Lastly, she needs to turn her right hand inward when blocking. She gets tooled a lot by the wing attacker, and she must turn the hitter back into the court.

Jaja Santiago will be the last opposite, but we will touch on her as if she will hit left as well. The 6’5 talent has so much potential, but I believe her strengths are not being maximized. She does not move like a middle or a left side. She moves like a right side hitter in my opinion. Just because she is tall, automatic middle? We should see what potential the player has, and at what position she can have the most success.

To run her in the middle on offense is great, but she gets lost on the blocking side as she is slower on the pivot to the wings. If she stays on the right, it takes some pressure away from the middle blocker to get all the way there as Jaja is a decent blocker. One thing certain is her swing needs to be corrected. Technically it is wrong, but she gets away with it because she is tall. If she can correct her swing, then she can be an all-around hitter.

Let us now touch on the left sides. Ces Molina will be the first that we will talk about. It is great to see that her confidence is back to swing hard. She has a technically sound swing, but in prior tournaments she would not swing away. She was also careful of cutting her shot, as she has just recovered from a shoulder injury. If she stays confident in her shoulder, she will be an effective weapon for the Philippines from the left.

Now let us discuss Alyssa Valdez. This young lady has had so many achievements in the volleyball world. She definitely brings a power game to the left side attack, but has a tendency to fade in long rallies. This may be due to the fact that she will get about 75% of the sets that’s why she also fades in the latter sets. Another thing about her is that she is inconsistent in the service reception game. She is often the target of the servers, which is another ploy to tire her out. The setters must move her around as she is deadly in second option attacks. The offense must be spread out so as not to tire any of the players out.

The next position is the middle blocker slot. This position is close to my heart, as it was my position when I played for UST. It is for me the hardest position to master for a spiker. In this position, speed wins, and power can wait. We have four middles on the roster, and we begin with Gen Casugod.

This 6’1 young lady has been improving every season that she has played. Her development into an effective middle is impressive. Her tempo has vastly improved, but is lacking in consistency. She needs to abbreviate her approach and her arm swing to save time and energy. She also needs to speed up on her pivot to the wings. All in all she is developing at a steady pace, and this exposure will be golden for her development.

The next middle will be Aby Marano. The emotional leader on any team, Aby brings that “I will die before I lose” attitude on court. There is no lack of fight in her. Where she does fall short is her dependence on her running attack. When in transition, she needs to shake it up a bit. Looking like she will run and cut her route short to hit a back quick. Stuff like that will make her harder to mark.

Next middle blocker is Maika Ortiz. This veteran is battled tested and is hard working. She will run her routes and keep the opponents middle blocker engaged to give the wings some gaps. Maika needs to vary her attack as well and not depend on the slide quick to zone 2.

Lastly, we will discuss Mika Reyes. This young player is starting to show improvement. The knock on her before is that she would always run a B-quick in transition and never hit it hard, opting always for off speed shots. Now she varies her approaches and hits with more conviction. She needs to improve in having consistent tempo in transition, and react quicker to pivoting to the wings. This exposure will undoubtedly open up Mika’s eyes and hopefully make her realize how talented she is.

Now let us talk about the key position to any transition game, the libero. Since we are fielding 12 players, by FIVB rules we can only have one libero. Denden Lazaro will be our lone libero for the SEA games. The reason I think she was selected over Dawn Macandili, is the fact that Denden’s defense is making a not so strong team an actual threat to the stronger teams in the league. There is where you see the true value of a libero, and the importance of the position. That about sums it up.

I wish the team well, and am excited to see their progress. I truly hope that the girls grow mentally and spiritually as they represent the country. There is no greater honor for an athlete than to wear that flag on their uniform, and it sits above the heart. Put your individual goals aside and please put the country above all. Play as a team and most importantly, play for each other.

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