After the moderate success of the Creamline Cool Smashers’ substitute national team role in the 2022 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Women’s Championship held here, the core of that club has now been included for the upcoming 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia next month, reinforced by a number of pros from the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) in hopes of finally ending the program’s 18-year podium slump.
The Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) recently released the composition of the 14-woman roster and the line-up has received mixed reviews from the local volleyball community.
Erstwhile skipper Alyssa Valdez—who is still on the mend from a knee injury that prevented her from joining the Cool Smashers in their title defense of the PVL All-Filipino Conference (formerly known as the Open Conference)—headlines the squad to be handled by Brazilian mentor and Akari Chargers Head Coach Jorge Souza de Brito.
The complete list:
Alyssa Valdez (OH)
Jia Morado-de Guzman (S)
Michele Gumabao (OP)
Tots Carlos (OH/OP)
Jema Galanza (OH)
Ced Domingo (MB)
Kyla Atienza (L)
Chay Troncoso (MB)
Gel Cayuna (S)
Dell Palomata (MB)
Kath Arado (L)
Kat Tolentino (OP)
Cherry Nunag (MB)
Mylene Paat (OP/OH)
With the PNVF deciding to send a team from the professional ranks, the fans have once again been very vocal about the absence of players from the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers, which garnered its first PVL podium finish by salvaging the bronze last conference. It was already made known that the F2 players had opted to forego being part of the national to allow a new generation of volleybelles a shot at serving flag and country.
Many argue that the inclusion of Aby Maraño, Kim Kiana Dy, Kim Fajardo, Dawn Macandili-Catindig and youngster Ivy Lacsina could have bolstered the chances of the contingent in medaling for the first time since the 2005 edition of the competition in Bacolod City.
Curiously though, PVL AFC silver medalists Petro Gazz are also devoid of representation. It is still unclear why the likes of MJ Phillips, Rem Palma and Grethcel Soltones are not on the team.
Jaja Santiago, perhaps the best Filipina player today, will also be skipping this incarnation of the biennial meet due to commitments with the Ageo Medics in the Japanese pro circuit adding to the woes of the selection committee.
The kneejerk reaction generated by this line-up is the overload in the Opposite Hitter position where perennial scoring machine Tolentino, defensive ace Gumabao and national team veteran Paat will now have to rotate. Carlos, who won two of her three PVL MVP awards also as an Opposite Hitter will have to become a fulltime Outside Hitter (OH) behind Valdez and Galanza.
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Paat—the only legitimate southpaw on the team—has been used as an OH in past. However, she will be hard pressed to find decent minutes in that role.
But having seven members from Creamline boosts the chemistry of the team and having Sherwin Meneses as de Brito’s deputy further hastens the progress heading into the final weeks of training. The acquisition of Cherry Rose Rivera-Macatangay as part of the coaching staff is also valuable as she was a member of that 2005 team. Her insights could be a game-changer.
Palomata has blossomed since transferring to the High-Speed Hitters last season and has evolved from being a pure net presence to an all-around threat, while Arado and Cayuna add the necessary spunk to complete the concoction of talent.
The big surprises were the selection of Troncoso and Nunag—both reserves on their respective clubs.
Troncoso (5’10”), a product of Central Philippine University (the same alma mater of beach volleyball stalwarts Jovelyn Gonzaga and Fiola Ceballos), was discovered in a summer exhibition tournament and will be making her national team debut while Nunag (6’0”)—out of De La Salle Dasmariñas (Cavite)—was a star on the now defunct Perlas Spikers and started for the Flying Titans before the return of regular pivot Maddie Madayag from injury. She is also making her first appearance with the Philippine team.
Both are expected to rekindle their roles as impact players in Cambodia.
The projected starting line-up will have six of the seven Cool Smashers taking the first plunge with Valdez and Galanza taking the left wing and Gumabao—fresh from her first PVL feting—manning the right. De Guzman orchestrates while Atienza patrols the floor. Domingo (could be) joined by Palomata up front to form a solid net combination.
If Valdez is still not one hundred percent by then, Carlos or Paat could give it a go.
The duo of Cayuna and Tolentino can come in towards the twilight of sets to complete a full frontline while Troncoso—as Cignal has shown—can come in as the serve specialist and still provide offense from the back row.
The line-up is complete in all positions, but the decision to bring in the core of a champion PVL team is what makes it a level-up over the usual collection of superstars from different systems.
The Creamline core (sans Valdez) were successful in defeating world-ranked Australia and Iran in the 2022 AVC as well as managing to steal a set from perennial titlists Thailand and gave Vietnam a gritty battle in their straight-sets setback.
If the goal is to podium, this team can get it done. Beating Thailand and Vietnam can also be achieved if the system is fully implemented and there is still time to achieve that.
In all, what appears to be another hastily assembled group of intrepid young ladies now has the benefit of coming with a winning system that could spell the difference in May.
It has been eight stagings since Ramil de Jesus piloted the likes of Macatangay, Mary Jean Balse, Tina Salak, Monica Aleta and the Carolino sisters to the bronze medal. This long wait could be nearing its conclusion.