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Spilled chances

What actually destroyed the Nationals in their SEA Games campaign was the fact that four of their best players were not inside the venue during the critical period.



MEMBERS of the national women’s volleyball team burst into tears following their loss to Indonesia. DAVID JOHN CUBANGBANG @tribunephl_dvd

The national team failed to hit its target of emerging with a podium finish when it surrendered to Indonesia in the bronze-medal match of the women’s volleyball competition of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games Monday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

The setback was such a bitter pill to swallow.

The Nationals were just a point away from winning the match — and snapping their 14-year medal drought — but a series defensive lapses doomed their chances, reducing them into a huge mass of tears while casting some serious doubts on the future of their program.

But it wasn’t the bombs that Indonesian hotshot Megawati Pertewi unloaded in the crucial stretch of the match that crushed the chances of the Nationals. It also wasn’t because head coach Shaq de los Santos’ failure to adjust or because they didn’t to come up with a single win in the four-nation tourney.

What actually destroyed the Nationals in their SEA Games campaign was the fact that four of their best players were not inside the venue during the critical period.

Hopes were high when the national squad kicked off their SEA Games preparation early this year.

The optimism was so overwhelming that the Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas Inc. (LVPI) proudly declared in numerous occassions that this is the strongest team ever built with all the country’s brightest volleyball stars coming together to win a medal in front of their countrymen.

But it didn’t happen.

Jaja Santiago, arguably the country’s brightest export to the international stage, was recalled by her former club, Ageo Medics, in the prestigious V.Premier League in Japan around April and would miss the biennial meet.

Her only hope, however, is if the LVPI would write her club a letter to explain the situation and express its interest to have her released for the SEA Games.

It didn’t happen.

The LVPI failed to send a letter on time and Ageo Medics didn’t allow Santiago to suit up, creating a massive void in the rotation of the national squad.

Few weeks later, her sister in Dindin Manabat followed suit as Kurobe AquaFairies gave her a call.

Filipino-American setter Alohi Robins-Hardy also stepped out of the team after being ruled ineligible for failing to secure her Philippine passport.

Despite the departure of the towering Santiago sisters and Robins-Hardy, the federation still remained optimistic. Its top officials still believe that a podium finish remains possible.

That belief was further reinforced when the Nationals emerged with bronze medal finishes in the two editions of the ASEAN Grand Prix followed by a solid training camp and a series of friendly matches against club and university teams in Japan.

Unfortunately, that Japan trip yielded a massive casualty.

Kalei Mau, the Filipino-American spiker who embraced the leadership role for the national squad, was deemed ineligible after failing to process her transfer from the United States Volleyball Association (USVA) to the LVPI.

Those in the know bared that the federation had been long asking her to sign her transfer papers, but she took her sweet time until the Asian Volleyball Confederation finally decided that she couldn’t see action in the SEA Games without leaving the USVA.

Mau, a holder of Philippine passport, was shocked and even asked the team if she could explore Tokyo alone to think things over.

She tried to play in the Philippine Superliga Super Cup, a four-team pocket tournament designed to ramp up the preparation of the national squad, but her focus was simply wasn’t there.

Team officials told reporters that she was nursing an injury, an apparent attempt to mask the truth that she was suffering from a bruised ego and a broken heart.

With these sorry setbacks hurting its morale leading to the SEA Games, it’s no longer a surprise why the national squad was a disaster right from the opening serve.

And it’s something that the federation has to rethink as it tries to move forward and prepare for yet another SEA Games participation in 2021.