Creating a Philippine Volleyball Team for the AVC Challenge Cup

Let’s Create a Philippine Women’s Volleyball Team for the AVC Challenge Cup

With the upcoming AVC Challenge Cup, how can the Philippines’ National Team reach international success? We think this squad might be our country’s best bet.

Being a volleyball broadcaster and announcer since 2007, I’ve seen the sport steadily rise from obscurity to now packing iconic Philippine sporting venues on an almost regular basis.

It has now become the mainstream passion of the Filipino aficionado and with the looming hosting of the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Challenge Cup, the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) has bestowed the task of forming a national contingent to the Premier Volleyball League (PVL). With outgoing national team coach Jorge Brito de Souza’s swansong in the horizon, 14 players must now comprise a women’s team lineup that will compete against some of the better teams in the continent this coming May 22-29 at the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila.

There have been several so-called “leaks” about the list of 20 candidates supposedly put together by de Brito and the PVL, but there has been no confirmation on their veracity. However, some names appear to be shoo-ins while others seem to be strong suggestions by fans and experts alike.

I’m no expert, let’s get that out of the way.

What I have is years of watching, learning, and seeing how much talent there truly is in Philippine volleyball. 

Over the years, we’ve witnessed a spike in the development of taller young women in volleyball, and with the best one out of the reach of the current Philippine national team formation (one soon to be Japan naturalized 6’6” Jaja Santiago), there is still a wealth of talent from the PVL (and even the collegiate ranks) that could form a squad and yield positive results in the upcoming tournament.

So here is a “suggestion” on the possible 20 candidates for the pool for the AVC Challenge Cup. Let’s begin.

Creamline Cool Smashers PVL player Jia Morado-de Guzman
(Photo credit: PVL)

The pulse of the offense goes through its chief playmaker and with additional international experience points garnered, this puts former Creamline skipper Jia Morado-de Guzman atop the list. Jia has already attained numerous accolades for her setting and leadership acumen in the PVL and I see no other candidate who is more of a lock to make the team.

Who is going to be her backup, though?

Many would go in the direction of youth with names like Cignal’s Gel Cayuna, Mars Alba of Choco Mucho, and even Petro Gazz’s unconventional Djanel Cheng (who already donned the national colors last year in the same tilt). However, I lean more towards veterans who are known to deliver in the clutch so my vote goes to Kim Fajardo of the PLDT High Speed Hitters. Fajardo is a steady veteran who seems to always sniff out the tendencies of her teammates and is at the point of her career of being more like a mentor than a star.

Though in forming a pool of 20, there has to be one more that will be part of the selection process so I throw in Djanel Cheng because her unorthodox style could just throw off the more conventional opponents. 

Middle Blockers
DLSU Lady Spiker Thea Gagate
(Photo credit: UAAP Media)

One name has already appeared in all prospective lists as a guarantee to be named: Dell Palomata. This 6’3” behemoth from Bacolod started turning heads when she debuted for the now-defunct Sta. Lucia Lady Realtors and it would be a travesty to leave her out of any national team conversation. After that, it gets tricky.

The PVL has very few individuals in this position surpassing six feet who have the same athleticism and intelligence for the game. My second selection would be Nxled’s Ivy Lacsina who has already transitioned to being a wing spiker. Bringing the 6’2” former National University (NU) star back to the middle would be beneficial, especially since she was already under de Brito in a previous national team incarnation. 

Another middle blocker who has displayed poise in the AVC Challenge Cup is Ced Domingo of the Akari Chargers. Having picked up international experience from seeing action with Nakhon Ratchasima QminC in the Thai league and having been among the difference-makers in Creamline’s representation of the Philippines in 2022, Domingo (despite being a shade under six feet) could still have an impact being a two-time PVL Best Middle Blocker and a Finals MVP.

For the fourth center, I go to the UAAP and bring in De La Salle University’s Thea Gagate. She’s already done with her collegiate career and the 6’2” 3-time UAAP Best Middle checks all the boxes: tenacity, leaping ability, and setter connection (she performed at an elite level with Alba and later Julia Coronel). The Cebuana could showcase what she could bring to the PVL on this international stage.

Two other names that could be included in the Magic 20 are Creamline’s Pangs Panaga and Fifi Sharma of the Chargers.

Opposite Hitters
Creamline Cool Smashers PVL player Tots Carlos
(Photo credit: PVL)

Despite being only 5’6”, no one can discount the heart, ferocity, and motor of Tots Carlos. Her name also shows up on many wish lists and her achievements in the PVL speak volumes. Carlos was a vital cog in Creamline’s dismantling of Iran and Australia in the 2022 edition and has been known to carry loads beyond her capabilities to ensure victories.

However, it’s still a debate on who gets the other spot. One of the prime directives of the opposite hitter position is to be the lead defender against the opponent’s best wing attacker, and for that height could be a prerequisite. That’s why I throw in the name of another veteran who is still more than serviceable and has a vast stock of international sorties: Din-Din Santiago-Manabat. The multi-awarded 6’2” stalwart could not only serve as a solid wing defender but also provide that much-needed leadership (on the court or in the locker room) for what could shape up to be a very youthful squad. Once again, de Brito handled her in Akari so it would seem to be a logical inclusion.

The opposite hitter that I would recruit into the pool would be from the college ranks again—and another former de Brito favorite — Alyssa Solomon (6’3”)from NU. OK, La Salle’s Shevana Laput (6’1”) would also deserve consideration. 

Outside Hitters
Creating a Philippine Volleyball Team for the AVC Challenge Cup: Sisi Rondina
(Photo credit: PVL)

Two names are automatic here: Eya Laure of the Chery Tiggo Crossovers and reigning MVP Sisi Rondina from Choco Mucho.

It will be very difficult to imagine a current national team without Eya. I always call her the Ronda Rousey of Philippine women’s volleyball because of the fierceness she always brings to the floor. Many have forgotten that she was once a setter in high school and is an elite floor defender at 5’10”. Sisi is listed as 5’6” but she’s actually closer to 5’4”, yet leaps like a puma and will surprise many defenses with her ability to fire from behind the attack line. It’s hard to believe that they were college teammates at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and did not win a UAAP title together. Perhaps their destiny to triumph lies in the national team. 

From here, it’s anyone’s guess. But from the looks of it, de Brito may opt to include another Akari ace in Faith Nisperos (5’11”) and I lean towards her as well based on her all-around efficiency — and, of course, the ability to score a ton of points. An up-and-comer that I believe could also make inroads in this contingent would be Cignal’s Vanie Gandler. Another former Ateneo attacker (like Nisperos), Gandler is a relentless offensive package who has also shown marked improvement on the defensive end. 

Two more that I’d bring into the pool are Jema Galanza of the Cool Smashers and NU’s Bella Belen. 

Creating a Philippine Volleyball Team for the AVC Challenge Cup: Jennifer Nierva
(Photo credit: PVL)

Although I’m a huge fan of PLDT’s Kath Arado, I believe the lists out there have already locked in the two floor defenders on the team: Dawn Macandili-Catindig and Jennifer Nierva. Dawn has already won accolades on the international front, while Jen has gotten rid of the “potential” tag by earning the starting libero nod for Chery Tiggo — and was also a de Brito player a few years back.

Not much has to be said about defending these selections.

So, in summary, this would be our ideal Philippine Women’s Volleyball team:

Projected Team: 

Jia Morado-de Guzman (S) 5’7”
Kim Fajardo (S) 5’8”
Dell Palomata (MB) 6’3”
Ivy Lacsina (MB) 6’2”
Ced Domingo (MB) 5’9”
Thea Gagate (MB) 6’2”
Tots Carlos (OP) 5’6”
Din-Din Santiago-Manabat (OP) 6’2”
Eya Laure (OH) 5’10”
Sisi Rondina (OH) 5’6”
Faith Nisperos (OH) 5’11”
Vanie Gandler (OH) 5’9”
Dawn Macandili-Catindig (L) 5’0”
Jennifer Nierva (L) 5’4”

Projected Starters:

Morado-De Guzman (S)
Santiago-Manabat (OP)
Palomata (MB)
Lacsina (MB)
Laure (OH)
Rondina (OH)
Macandili-Catindig (L)

Projected Pool Members:

Djanel Cheng (S) 5’7”
Pangs Panaga (MB) 6’0”
Fifi Sharma (MB) 5’10”

Alyssa Solomon 6’3”/Shevana Laput (OP) 6’1”
Jema Galanza (OH) 5’7”
Bella Belen (OH) 5’7”

This is akin to making a list of senators that would get elected by the public, so every list varies. Who is on your list?

Banner images from the PVL.

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