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Valdez, Espejo, Bagunas banner SEAG pool

Six Creamline stars including sidelined hitter Alyssa Valdez banner the national women’s volleyball team pool while old hands Marck Espejo and Bryan Bagunas lead the men’s side for the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia.

The Philippine National Volleyball Federation released the names of players invited to the training pool four months before the biennial meet kicks off in Phnom Penh on 5 May.

Joining Valdez, who is still recovering from a knee injury she sustained during the Premier Volleyball League battle for third last December, are Cool Smashers setter Jia Morado-De Guzman, opposite hitter Tots Carlos, middle Ced Domingo, libero Kyla Atienza and Jema Galanza.

Also included in the women’s pool composed mostly of professional players are Choco Mucho’s Kat Tolentino and Cherry Nunag, Cignal setter Angel Cayuna, PLDT’s Kath Arado, Mika Reyes, Del Palomata and Jules Samonte, Mylene Paat of Chery Tiggo and Petro Gazz’s MJ Phillips.

University of the East’s Lia Pelaga and Riza Nogales are the only college players who committed to joining the pool after others turned down the federation’s call.

Reigning University Athletic Association of the Philippines Most Valuable Player-Rookie of the Year Bella Belen and National University teammates Cams Lamina, Alyssa Solomon and Jen Nierva declined the PNVF’s invitation.

Last year, the federation dissolved the national squad composed of college players mostly members of the UAAP Season 84 champion NU due to “commitment issues.”

The sports’ local governing body then called on Creamline to represent the country in the AVC Asian Women’s Volleyball Cup in Manila and in the ASEAN Grand Prix in Thailand.

AC Miner, Faith Nisperos and Vannie Gandler of Ateneo de Manila University, Eya Laure and Detdet Pepito of University of Santo Tomas, Lorene Toring of Adamson University and Alleiah Malaluan of De La Salle University also backed out with the UAAP Season 85 unfurling in late February and will run until around early May.

Cignal’s Ces Molina, who saw action for the national team since 2017, EJ Laure of Chery Tiggo and F2 Logistics’ Ivy Lacsina were also invited but elected not to join the pool.

Brazilian head coach Jorge Souza de Brito said the pool has started its Monday and Tuesday training this month at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

The squad, however, will have to reschedule its practice sessions as the PVL begins its All-Filipino Conference on 4 February until 30 March.

“Since we’re starting the PVL we have to reschedule the training,” De Brito, who is also calling the shots for Akari in the PVL, said.

“(But) what is best for the national team right now is that there is a PVL competition with a good level.”

“It is always good for any national team if you have a good competition with the highest level, you can just pick up the best players.”

The Filipinas, who seek to return to the podium after winning bronze in 2015, finished fourth in the 31st Hanoi SEA Games.

Meanwhile, the PNVF has sent nomination letters to 19 players from the Spikers’ Turf and UAAP.

They are given until 2 February to confirm if they will join the pool for the men’s squad to be handled by head coach Odjie Mamon.

Bagunas and Espejo, who were instrumental in the Nationals’ silver medal finish in the 2019 Manila SEA Games edition, are joined by other Phl team mainstays Kim Malabunga, Ish Polvorosa and Jau Umandal.

Also receiving invitations are NU’s Jann Sumangui, Rwenzel Taguibolos, Leo Ordiales, Joseph Bello and Michaelo Buddin; Manuel Sumanguid, JP Bugaoan and Chumason Njigha of Cignal; Kim Dayandante, Vince Mangulabnan and Vince Lorenzo of Cotabato; Jay Dela Noche of UST; Jade Disquitado of Iloilo; and Noel Kampton of La Salle.

Mamon replaced Dante Alinsunurin, who was sacked by the PNVF citing that he might not be able to handle the national squad he steered to its first silver medal since 1977 as he is also coaching Choco Mucho and two NU squads in the Spikers’ Turf and UAAP, in an interim capacity.

After the SEA Games, Brazilian mentor Sergio Veloso will take over the national team.

The Filipinos finished fifth two years ago in Vietnam.

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