A PHOTO request from media to join fellow team captains after the Asian Under-23 Championship press conference was all it took for Alyssa Valdez to realize the difficult task ahead for Team Philippines.
“Ako ang pinaka-payat at pinaka-maliit sa group,” said the 5-foot-9 Valdez with a smile.
The Philippines begins its campaign in Pool A of the Rebisco Asian Under-23 Championship against Iran on Friday at the Philsports Arena, marking the country’s return to the international volleyball scene after several years.
Following Iran, the Philippine team takes on Kazakhstan on Saturday in a daunting challenge of trying to make it to the next round of the first edition of the Under-23 event.
“Sobrang tangkad nila,” Valdez said of Iran and Kazakhstan. “Joke lang ito pero sabi ko kay Jaja (Santiago), ‘Na-iba ka ng team’ kasi feeling namin doon siya kasama kasi ang tatangkad nila.”
Worse, national team coach Roger Gorayeb admitted going into their 4:15 p.m. clash against Iran he has very little knowledge of their opponent.
“Wala kaming alam (sa mga teams) kahit si coach Tai,” Gorayeb said, referring to trainer and Ateneo head coach Tai Bundit. “Ang info niya, sa Thailand team, hindi naman namin ka-grupo ‘yun.”
“Hindi ko nga akalain na may Under-23 kasi ang alam ko may Under-17,” said Gorayeb.
In contrast, Valdez said she recognized the face of some of the players and is sure they are good players.
“Familiar faces na ‘yung iba lalo na ‘yung Thailand kasi we played them during the Under-17 noong 2008. The others, kapag minsan lumalabas kami, nakakalaban din namin sila.
“Definitely, sobrang laki ng edge nila to win every game. They are skilled, very talented, and parang in-born na sa kanila ‘yung volleyball. Sa body structure pa lang nila, super athletic na.”
Valdez knows it will be an uphill climb, but assured they will play their hearts out in front of the home crowd.
“As a team, we don’t expect anything. Wala talagang expectations coming into this tournament kasi we are a rebuilding team. We just trained for one month compared to other teams na they have trained for many years already.
“But we promise that we trained and prepared well,” Valdez said.
Valdez will be joined in the team by Santiago, Gretchel Soltones, EJ Laure, Myla Pablo, Tin Agno, Ria Meneses, Filipino-Japanese Rissa Sato, Ateneo teammates Bea De Leon, Jia Morado, Jhoanna Maraguinot, and Ella De Jesus.
TV5 and Aksyon TV 41 will air the matches of the Philippines live.