SAYING they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, the POC-PSC Sports V-Belles leave today to compete in the Southeast Sub-Zonal World women’s volleyball qualifiers opening on Friday in Khe Sanh, Vietnam.
“We look at this tournament as an opportunity for our country to return to international competition. Mataas ang spirits ng mga bata,” said head coach Roger Gorayeb during Tuesday’s PSA forum at Shakey’s Malate.
To spare the country from sanctions after the Philippine Volleyball Federation declined to take part in the 'mandatory event,' the Philippine Olympic Committee, through first vice-president Joey Romasanta, was given the go-signal by the Asian Volleyball Confederation to form a squad to the Vietnam competition.
The POC then tapped standouts of the recently-concluded Shakey’s V-League, led by newly-crowned champion National University Lady Bulldogs, to represent the country in the event, while veteran Ateneo mentor Gorayeb was the consensus choice as head coach.
“This team was formed at short notice and had only a week’s practice,” Gorayeb said. ‘’Modest lang expectations namin.”
Although short on experience, Gorayeb said in the session sponsored by Shakey’s and Pagcor he was impressed by the attitude and enthusiasm of the girls, most, if not all, will have their first taste of international competition.
“Noong tinanong ko sila kung gusto nilang sumama, di nila tinanong kung may-allowance ba o wala? Tinanong lang kung sino ang coach. Noong sinabi ko na ako, go sila kaagad,” he said.
Smart Communications is the main sponsor of the team, the Philippine Sports Commission will be providing the airfare, while Accel is the official outfitter.
“Smart is one with the Filipino nation in wishing our volleyball team great success. Let’s relive the old glory,” said Smart Communications chief wireless advisor Doy B. Vea in a statement.
After a week’s training, Gorayeb said he had observed glimpses of the potential of the V-Belles, spearheaded by towering siblings Dindin and Jaja Santiago, who will be at the forefront of their offense and defense.
“Mayroon na akong nakikitang teamwork. Ang problema ko talaga is how this team will gel,” he said, while thanking the POC, the PSC, Sports Vision, which runs the Shakey’s V-League, and sponsors Smart and Accel, for giving them the chance to play for the country.
The Filipinas open their campaign on Friday against the hosts, who are the favorites to top the four-nation tourney also featuring Indonesia and Myanmar, and advance to the Asian Zonals in September.
“Mahirap talunin ang Vietnamese since they already have a professional women’s league that features Russian imports. They will be very, very hard to beat,” the coach said. “This does not mean, however, we won’t do our best. Lalaban pa rin kami.”
On Saturday, the POC-PSC Sports V-Belles go up against Indonesia, which Gorayeb considers another tough opponent, before closing out its campaign against Myanmar.
“I think we can beat Myanmar, pero kung mananalo tayo sa Indonesia, mas lalong magaling.”
Being an unknown quantity to their Southeast Asian rivals, he said, could work to their advantage “kaya mag-kakabulagaan na lang kami.”
Whether or not they do well in Vietnam, Gorayeb appealed to the volleyball leadership to keep the core of the present team intact “because they will already form a solid foundation for future national teams.”