EVERY match is important for head coach Shaq Delos Santos and the women’s national team in the new format of the Southeast Asian Games volleyball.
Instead of the field being grouped into two divisions, the last-minute withdrawal of Malaysia will have the five remaining teams - host Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand - forced to playing in a single-round eliminations.
The top two teams will clash for the 30th SEA Games medal, while the third and fourth placers battle for bronze.
“Magiging very challenging ito para sa amin,” said Delos Santos on Tuesday as his Petron squad survived the knockout semifinals against Foton in the Philippine Superliga Invitational.
“Parang ganito yun e, knockout, knockout so talagang kailangan bibigay mo yung 100 percent.”
It’s a smaller field, but it is still a daunting task for the Filipina Spikers to end a 14-year medal drought in the biennial tournament going up against reigning champion Thailand and contenders Indonesia and Vietnam.
“I think parehas lang siya mahirap kasi siyempre alam naman natin ang mga kalaban sobrang consistent sila especially for their national team,” Delos Santos said. “Tayo kasi medyo nagstart ulit, nagbubuo ulit ng team. Pero definitely gagawin namin yung best namin para dito sa SEA Games especially dito gagawin.”
The national coach is grateful that his wards experienced to face their SEA Games rivals in the two-leg ASEAN Grand Prix, where the country finished with back-to-back bronze medals.
“Malaking factor na nakalaban namin sila twice sa ASEAN Grand Prix and na-gauge namin yung team namin,” he said. “So may chance kami na mas makapagprepare and maadjust pa rin yung team para doon sa mga competitive teams na makakalaban namin."
But Delos Santos won’t stop pushing his wards to their limits as they fly to Tokyo, Japan for a 14-day training camp before the PSL Super Cup, where they face two all-star squads from the league and a Japanese varsity team.
“It doesn’t mean na okay na lahat doon namin nakita na andami pa naming kailangang ayusin,” Delos Santos said. “Malaking opportunity sa amin para makapagprepare sa Japan. Pagdating sa volleyball doon din namin gusto magpunta kasi marami kaming matututunan doon for sure.”