THE Philippine water polo team is eyeing a return to the podium in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games as they open their campaign against Thailand on Tuesday at the National Aquatics Centre.
Assistant coach Dale Evangelista said the team went to Europe, including stops in Barcelona and Portugal, for a one-and-a-half month training and pocket tournaments from June to July in hopes of improving their chances of copping a medal in the competition.
"Ang focus is makabalik sa podium, minimum top three talaga. Kung puwede, mag-gold," said Evangelista in an interview from Kuala Lumpur.
The last time the water polo squad went home with a medal was in 2011 in Indonesia when they won a silver against Singapore.
Goalkeeper Tani Gomez leads the 13-man water polo team that are mostly veterans from previous SEA Games editions.
"Nagbalik kami ng mga veterans natin, the rest 'yung mga 2015 team," said Evangelista.
Evangelista, one of the lieutenants of head coach Rey Galang, still sees Singapore as a force in the region, with Indonesia, Thailand, and host Malaysia also hoping to break the medal column.
"Halos level naman tayo. It's anybody's game," said Evangelista, a former basketball player for Mapua before shifting to water polo.
The Philippines is vying for an auspicious start as it faces Thailand at 11 a.m. The squad also takes on Malaysia on Wednesday, Singapore on Thursday, and Indonesia on Sunday in the five-team round-robin format tournament.
"Excited siyempre. Para makapalaro ka sa Pilipinas at ikaw ang unang-una, sanay na kami na kami ang nagsisimula talaga sa SEA Games," said Evangelista.
Other members of the water polo team are Abnel Amiladjud, Adan Gonzales, Frazier Alamara, Juan Paolo Serrano, MacGyver Reyes, Mark Jerwin Valdez, Matthew Royce Yu, Mico Anota, Mummar Alamara, Reynaldo Salonga Jr., Romark Johnson Belo, and Teodoro Roy Canete Jr.
After water polo's opening match, the Philippine women's netball squad follows with a match against Thailand at 3 p.m. at the Juara Stadium, Bukit Juara Sports Complex.