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Phl battles SEAG champs

Beating regional powerhouse Thailand will be the ultimate objective when the national women’s volleyball team opens its campaign in the ASEAN Grand Prix on Friday at the Korat Chatchai Hall in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.

Game time is set at 7 p.m. with the Filipinas gunning for a crucial win over the Thais, who are using this four-nation event as a mere warmup for the FIVB Women’s World Championship in Poland and the Netherlands on 23 September.

Also seeing action will be Indonesia and Vietnam, who will collide in the 4 p.m. encounter of this short, but very competitive, tournament.

The Philippines will be marching oozing with confidence.

Despite the disbandment of their national squad, the Filipinas still put up a strong fight in the Asian Volleyball Confederation Cup for Women recently.

Bannered by Premier Volleyball League champion Creamline, the Filipinas made a lot of heads turn when they finished sixth in the prestigious event dominated by world superpowers like Japan and China.

Star spiker Alyssa Valdez was not around, but the Philippines still came up with an impressive win over Australia in the classifications before wrapping up its campaign with a three-set loss to Chinese Taipei in the battle for fifth place.

National coach Sherwin Meneses said it was still a mission accomplished considering that they are just a club team that was given very short notice before being deployed to the crucial battle.

“Hopefully, we could bring the experience we gained here to Thailand,” said Meneses, who arrived in the Thai province more than 200 kilometers from Bangkok on Wednesday together with a solid team that is bannered by Jia de Guzman, Michele Gumabao, Celine Domingo, Tots Carlos and Jema Galanza.

But solving the Thai puzzle is easier said than done.

Thailand, the world No. 14, was branded as the “Golden Girls” in the region.

It is untouchable as it owns 15 Southeast Asian Games gold medals, three Asian titles and countless appearances in world-class events like the World Grand Prix, World Championship and the Olympics.

They were so physically and tactically superior in the previous SEA Games that they dropped only one set — a 25-18, 14-25, 25-17, 25-23 win over host Vietnam — to capture yet another gold medal.

In their previous collision in the AVC Cup, the high-powered Thais crushed the Filipinas, 25-18, 25-23, 20-25, 25-9, before bagging the bronze medal behind Japan and China.

The Filipinas, in fact, have yet to win over the Thais in a national team competition since their dramatic gold medal match in the 1993 SEA Games.

Although a local club in RC Cola-Army prevailed over the Thai national junior squad in the final of the Philippine Superliga Invitational Conference in 2016, the fact still remains that winning over Thailand in an elite tourney like the SEA Games or the Asian Games seems impossible.

Thailand will parade its national team bannered by setter Pornpun Guedpard, Ajcharaporn Kongyot, Pimpichaya Kokram and Hattaya Bamrungsuk, who are all campaigning in various international leagues.

Guedpard, the Best Setter of the AVC Cup for Women, is playing for Jakarta PGN Popsivo Polwan in Indonesia while Kongyot for Sarıyer Belediyespor in Turkey, Kokram for Kurobe AquaFairies in Japan and Hattaya for Toyota Auto Body Queenseis also in Japan.

Also in the Thai roster are national team mainstays in middle blockers Watchareeya Nuanjam, Kaewkalaya Kamulthala and Tichakorn Boonlert, liberos Piyanut Pannoy and Nattaporn Sanitklang, and open spikers Saasipaporn Janthawisut and Kannika Thipachot.

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