Philippine Under-23 team overcomes late drama to beat Kazakhstan, reach quarters
Alyssa Valdez once again led the hosts with 19 points. Freddie Dionisio

THE Philippines clinched a quarterfinal berth in the 2015 Asian Under-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship after a thrilling 25-19, 25-11, 27-25 win over Kazakhstan on Saturday at the Philsports Arena.

Alyssa Valdez was at her usual best, Myla Pablo delivered timely hits, and the Filipinas survived a late collapse that allowed the Kazakhs to save six match points before breaking into the win column after bowing to Iran in the tournament opener on Friday.

With a 1-1 card, the Philippines joined Iran as the qualifiers from Pool A in its first appearance in an international tournament after a long hiatus. Under the tournament format, the top two teams from each of the four groups will advance to the quarterfinals.

“Nothing to lose kami compared to them,” national coach Roger Gorayeb said. “Three weeks lang naman kami nag-training, sila (Kazakhstan) matagal na, ang lalaki pa.”

Powered by back-to-back aces by Valdez, the Philippines pulled away from Kazakhstan behind a 7-0 blast for 14-11 lead. The Filipinas then took the first set for good after a posting a 22-17 lead.

With the crowd growing excited, Pablo sparked a sizzling start to the second set which saw the hosts take control, 13-4, after a Gretchel Soltones ace.

The Philippines, however, had to endure precarious moments in the third set when they allowed the visitors to mount a comeback from 18-24 down and even take the lead twice, the last at 26-25.

The hosts recovered by winning the last three points, with Jaja Santiago scoring the game-winner that the home crowd into a frenzy.

Valdez had 19 points while Santiago added 12 points for the Philippines, which also had nine and eight markers from Gretchel Soltones and Pablo, respectively.

Yana Yagodina topscored for Kazakhstan with 18 points.

“We didn’t expect anything. We didn’t expect na we are going to play na parang magkakasama na kami ng matagal as teammates,” said Valdez, who played with her righ hand heavily wrapped after hurting it in the Iran game.

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