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There were two FIVB tournaments that the Philippines hosted this past year, the Asian Women’s Club Championship and the Women’s World Club Championship. Both tournaments were proverbial eye-openers to most of the volleyball fans in the country. It’s one thing to see them on TV, and a whole different thing to see them in the flesh. The speed and power of these ladies can only be truly appreciated watching them live. Let us recall and discuss the things that happened.
The first of the two international tournaments hosted by the Philippines was the Asian Women’s Club Championship held in Binan, Laguna. These were some of the best club teams in Asia. Kazakhstan, China and Japan were just some of the visiting countries. The line-up of teams aside from the ones just mentioned, were Vietnam, Malaysia, Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Thailand, People’s Republic of Korea and of course the Foton Pilipinas Team. This group of teams really showed different levels of where individual countries were in their respective volleyball programs. Each presented strengths and weaknesses and what the programs were doing to cope with them.
I will touch on only a few examples of team make-up. We will first talk about Thailand. This is a solid team up and down its roster. They have offensive cohesion and defensive discipline. Both characteristics are extremely beneficial. This team plays good volleyball, plain and simple. They are one of the dominant teams in the South East Asian region, because Thailand invested in being so, and it shows. The business model is apparently working. To describe their style is easy…Tempo! Tempo! Tempo! They will dictate the speed and location of the engagements, and force you to try and catch up.
The next team I would like to discuss is Kazakhstan. They have great height, but are in need of more polishing in the skills department. The team is good, but you can see the lack of polishing in the transition game. That aspect is where skill and discipline are needed the most. The country is but a few steps from where Thailand is in its evolution. They have found tall players that still have many years of volleyball ahead of them, that’s a giant plus. There is still that young naivety when they go up against a more seasoned teams. That is solved by court time and exposure. The country has begun to invest in a program, and that is the biggest step of all.
Let us now look at the Philippine representative, Foton Pilipinas. This was a team that had played together for but 15 days, had only a few times of having the complete team for practice, and had to adjust to a brand new coach. All these factors worked against the team. It produced a non-cohesive team. None of the recipes for success being done by the other teams were in play. This just tells you where the Philippines is with regards to their own volleyball program. The process has begun, and is slow in its evolution. The once mighty South East Asian reputation has vanished, and other countries have overtaken the Philippines.
Those were three comparisons between countries that are in different phases of volleyball development: Thailand now aiming to go outside the Asian region, Kazakhstan beginning to make waves in its region and the Philippines still in the building/unification phase of things. That in a nutshell is what I saw in this particular tournament. Japan won by virtue of defensive superiority, China was second due to their height and power and both countries have solid programs. They are in essence where all the up and coming Asian countries want to be.
The next tournament that the Philippines had the pleasure of hosting and joining was the Women’s World Club Championships. This featured the best players from all over the world. This could be compared to the all-star games of different leagues, but this was at the world level. One way to describe the level at this tournament is that it is a level above the Olympics. This is just to put things into perspective. The teams that participated from the Asian tournament were Thailand and Japan, with both fielding a different club from the Asian tourney. What I saw here was what good volleyball looked like. Solid play on both sides of the ball highlighted the skill set present in each player to play at this level.
If we look at some of the teams, the rosters are quite formidable. For volleyball at this high level, you would wonder what would make the difference between teams winning or losing? The answer was the most basic of skills, serving and passing. If we look at most of the stat sheets, we would see minimal unforced errors. The teams knew how to take care of their side of the court, because the basics dictated play. The volleyball IQ on display is a testament to each player understanding the game and knowing how to evolve or adjust to their opponents. It was such a beautiful sight to see. You can never experience the beauty of the game without watching it live.
The teams like Eczacibasi Vitra, Pomi Casalmaggiore and Rexona-SESC were but a few of the participants. Vakifbank Istanbul, Volero Zurich and Bangkok Glass all earned their right to play for their clubs on the world stage. The other Asian contingents were Hisamitsu Springs of Japan and host team PSL F2 Logistics Manila. I will talk about the plight of the Asian teams as they were the teams that really struggled versus these world power club teams.
Let us begin with the Philippine contingent. The PSL team was a blend of foreign players and local players that had little practice time together compared to the other teams, and also hada new coach (sound familiar?) The team struggled against all the teams as they could not find a line-up that would work as a unit. That is just simply not enough court time together. The positives are that some younger players got a taste of the level of competition, adding to their experience. The team and players need a whole lot more exposure time.
The next team we will talk about is Hisamitsu Springs. The Japanese contingent had that defensive speed, but they did not have the speed advantage in transition. The European teams were taller and just as fast. With all skills being equal, the European teams’ length was just too far for the Japanese team to reach. It’s not that Japan’s club team played bad, the other teams just played better and they were longer. We might as well join Thailand’s team in this discussion as they suffered a similar fate in this tournament. Both teams could not go to their strengths of speed in transition. Both coaches of Hisamitsu Springs and Bangkok Glass had really nothing to say. Their timeouts were momentum killing ones and not so much tactical adjustments. The Asian squads just played to the best they could, that’s good volleyball.
The bottom line is that regardless of what is happening on the court, whether you are in a tight game or being slaughtered you must stay disciplined and play the point and never the score. The key is to play good volleyball. That is what a good program develops in their players. That is the value and importance of having a program to begin with. If there are initiatives being started toward the development of a national program, then the country needs to rally together and start it. If a country approaches it via factions, then we are doomed to mediocrity and only the talent of the nation loses.