After two years, the Philippines returns to the international arena when Rebisco and Choco Mucho march to battle in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship at the Terminal Hall inside Terminal 21 Mall in Nakhon Ratchasima on Friday.
Choco Mucho will be the first to plunge to action when it battles host team Nakhon Ratchasima at 1:30 p.m. in Pool A while Rebisco takes on taller, more seasoned Altay of Kazakhstan in the 7 p.m. encounter in Group B of this prestigious tourney that is being held under the cloud of Covid-19.
Skippered by Iris Tolenada, Choco Mucho will be marching with a loaded roster that has Filipino-American aces Kalei Mau and MJ Phillips as well as local stars Dawn Macandili, Kianna Dy, Majoy Baron and Mylene Paat, who all campaigned for the country in the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018 and 30th Southeast Asian Games in Pasig City in 2019.
Mau, for one, is regarded as one of the country’s most powerful spikers after emerging as Most Valuable Player in the Philippine Superliga in 2019 before campaigning as an import for the Las Changas de Naranjito in Puerto Rico.
She will be backed by an equally talented support crew of Ria Meneses, Deanna Wong, Dell Palomata, Tin Tiamzon and Gel Cayuna, who is coming in as a late replacement for opposite spiker Kat Tolentino.
Still, Choco Mucho head coach Odjie Mamon stressed that talent on paper doesn’t translate into victories inside the court in this tourney that stakes a slot to the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship from 15 to 19 December at Ankara, Turkey.
“We are stronger individually, but as a team, we had less time to prepare,” said Mamon, admitting that their one-month training inside a biosecure environment in Lipa City in Batangas is hardly enough to develop chemistry and cohesion against the best club teams in Asia.
“It has been a long time since the team was laid off as we finished the professional league last August and we had no chance to play.”
Tipped to challenge Choco Mucho will be a stellar cast of players, some of them members of the Thai national women’s team, who are very familiar with the Filipino brand of play.
Rising star Chatchu-on Moksri will be at the firing end as well as Natthanicha Jaisaen and Wanitchaya Luangtonglang, who both played as imports in the Philippines.
The 23-year-old Jaisaen suited up for the Bureau of Customs in 2016 while Luangtonglang played for TMS-Philippine Army in 2013.
A Turkish national team member in Yeliz Basa is also included in its roster, but her participation in this prestigious interclub tourney has yet to be confirmed pending the formal release of the O2 Form.
Also tipped to have its hands full is Rebisco.
Rebisco will have national team skipper Aby Maraño as well as veterans Dindin Manabat and Rhea Dimaculangan, but its nucleus is composed of college girls who will get their baptism of fire in the seniors’ division.
Collegiate stars Faith Nisperos, Mhicaela Belen, Imee Hernandez, Eya Laure, Kamille Cal, Jen Nierva and Bernadett Pepito will make their debut against the big guns of Asia when they face the taller, more aggressive Kazakhs.
They, however, will be guided by Jorge Edson Souza de Brito, who was appointed by the International Volleyball Federation to boost the grassroots program of the Philippines.
“My team is representing their country well as all of them are national players. There are a lot of good players. The experienced ones are like mentors to my younger players and I like this balance in my team,” said Souza de Brito, a gold medalist for Brazil in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, said.
“I started with this team since July and I expect them to enjoy their plays here after a long time without playing. They are the young players of the national team of the Philippines.”