A Wiser Jia de Guzman Returns from Japan to Represent the Philippines

A Wiser Jia de Guzman Returns from Japan to Carry the Philippine Flag Once More

Local star setter Jia de Guzman reflects on her Japan stint, as well as the Alas Pilipinas women’s team for the upcoming AVC Challenge Cup.  

Up until the PVL’s 2023 Invitational Conference, Jia Morado-De Guzman was the setter for the local volleyball darling, the Creamline Cool Smashers, as she copped eight Best Setter nods and four Finals MVPs in six years, not to mention six championships with the Cool Smashers.

In between Jia’s Creamline duties were national team stints for regional meets like the SEA Games, Asian Games, Asian Women’s Cup, and the ASEAN Grand Prix tournaments.

Without question, Jia’s talent never went unnoticed, as she was tapped as the Denso Airybees’ Asian import for the Japan V.League’s 2023-2024 season in October last year. As an Airybee, the veteran playmaker helped them win the Division 1 Women’s V.Cup, and finish second in the recent 72nd Kurowashiki All-Japan Volleyball Tournament.

And after nine months in Japan, Jia is home again. Not for Creamline, however, but rather to represent the national team (now known as Alas Pilipinas”) in the upcoming AVC Women’s Challenge Cup from May 22 to 29. 

“I’m really happy. It’s been nine months since I left, and I learned so much from Japan. I’m hoping na whatever I learned there I can share it here with the girls. And at the same time, I’m really excited to learn from them as well,” Jia told a group of reporters after the national team monicker reveal on Wednesday in Mandaluyong. 

Jia de Guzman with Creamline
Even before Japan, Jia de Guzman had already proven herself to be one of the, if not the best Philippine volleyball setters. (Photo credit: PVL)

Like her previous call-ups, repping the flag is “always a privilege” for Jia De Guzman, especially now that Philippine volleyball is on a meteoric rise. “Whatever we learned, we want to represent the country well. Especially now that there’s more support for volleyball and we see the next generation improving and everything so yeah.”

Of course, the homecoming isn’t just about volleyball, as Jia also gets the chance to enjoy her time at home as a balikbayan. While she “kinda missed it,” part of Jia’s homecoming is readjusting to the country’s “very, very hot” weather.

Mainit!” the setter replied in jest when asked about the country so far. 

Regardless, it’s safe to say that Jia has made up for lost time off the taraflex. Temperatures aside, coming home has allowed her to see “family, loved ones, and friends,” on top of wearing the national colors by next week. 

“Eating the food that I missed, everything about the Philippines na-miss ko talaga. I didn’t have the time to come home in the middle of my stint [in Japan]. So when I came home, lahat ng pwede kong gawin, ma-meet na tao [ginawa ko],” adds Jia. 

But what about her time with the Airybees? 

‘They play very simple volleyball’ 

Despite her success with the Airybees, even the Jia De Guzman underwent a learning curve. After all, even if she’s one of the Philippines’ best, Jia was still a newcomer to the Japanese volleyball scene.

While Denso was “very welcoming,” Jia shared, “It took a lot of training, a lot of time to get adjusted to the Japanese style of volleyball. Fortunately, everyone was very willing to share their wisdom. But at the same time, we’re also insistent na whatever I learned here from the Philippines, they wanted to learn about it also.”

On top of the systemic adjustments, there was the fundamental issue of language. And for Jia, this was actually her “biggest challenge” early on, even more than adjusting to the culture or the system.

According to her, this all boils down to her setter duties. Being the playmaker, it’s a must for Jia to communicate better with her spikers, “especially if I want to learn what their sets are,” she said. 

“We have to be very clear with the communication because volleyball is a team sport. So it’s the same here na when we started training naman in the Philippines, at least we spoke the same language so hopefully the adjustment is as fast.”

Ironically, it was team sport that helped Jia hurdle over the language barrier. For one, Denso had translators to help them according to her.

Jia de Guzman with the Denso Airybees
Jia de Guzman (number 11 on the right) with the Denso Airybees. (Photo credit: Jia de Guzman on Instagram)

But more importantly, there was a two-way effort. “I’m grateful because the girls did their best to study English but at the same time I had to learn some Japanese on my own,” added Jia.

As mentioned, Jia proceeded to help the Airybees in at least two local competitions. But apart from this, she had gotten a first-hand experience of the Japanese way of volleyball.

Her biggest learning? That the Japanese are fast-paced on the taraflex, and give a premium on their fundamentals to name a few.

“They play very simple volleyball, but at the same time, they’re very strategic. They do their best to study their opponents, every tendency, and whatever they can do to throw them off of their system. So I think that’s my biggest learning,” she explained.

Jia also highlighted Japan’s grassroots program for player development, which the Philippines can take a cue or two from.

“So even the young bloods, the young ones, they can play against Division 1 athletes. Like the most recent tournament I played, we were Division 1 athletes but we played five sets against a high school team. So we can see how good their grassroots really is,” she enthusiastically explains, referring to their five-setter against Kinrankai High School at the Kurowashiki All-Japan Volleyball Tournament.

Stacked, but… 

Without a doubt, this year’s AVC roster is stacked, with a good balance of vets, and up-and-coming names. As revealed yesterday, among the PVL pros are Sisi Rondina, Eya Laure, Vanie Gandler, Dell Palomata, Fifi Sharma, and Dawn Macandili-Catindig to name a few. 

In the collegiate ranks, there’s Jia’s backup in Juju Coronel, as well as Thea Gagate, Angel Canino, Bella Belen, Casiey Dongallo, and Aly Solomon who all need no introduction. 

But being the veteran that she is, Jia de Guzman was the first to acknowledge the current lack of chemistry. And to make matters more challenging, there’s only a week left before the regional meet, and yet, such a fundamental issue remains.

Jia de Guzman with some national team members
Some members of the men’s and women’s national team pools, including Philippine volleyball and Cignal officials during Wednesday’s press conference. (Photo Credit: Cignal)

So while she’s eager to share her new learnings, the top priority is for Alas is to get to know each other first. “Know what kinds of set or defense we do individually and try to put it together and just work from there,” said the veteran setter. 

“Heading into next week, the biggest thing we have to bring next week is communication because it’s the first time we’re all playing together. But in the long run, we’re hoping that this team is retained and we have more players to add so that leading up to the SEA Games next year, we can have better results.” 

Now, only time will tell how Jia de Guzman and the rest of Alas Pilipinas can figure each other out heading into the AVC Challenge Cup. Regardless, here’s to hoping that the inaugural Alas women’s will be the core of the national team’s sound future.

Banner Image by RJ Ballecer.

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