MANILA, Philippines – Very few people expected South Korean sensation Kim Yeon-koung to see action in their classification game against the Philippines in the 2017 Asian Women's Volleyball Championship last Sunday at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan, Laguna.
After all, the South Koreans have had little trouble in sweeping their Pool C games even with Kim chilling at the reserve box. KYK played for the first time in the tournament against Vietnam, an abbreviated stint as they won in four sets.
Given this, the Philippine national women's volleyball team made it their goal to force South Korea to field in "KYK," one of the best players in the world.
"Noong nasa loob kami ng dugout, nagbibiruan kami kasi parang given na hindi papasok si KYK," shared Jovelyn Gonzaga. "So sabi namin, goal namin na papasukin si KYK ng second set."
[Inside the dugout, we were joking around because we knew that they would not play KYK. So we made it our goal to force them to send KYK in by the second set.]
Consider it mission accomplished for the Filipinas, as KYK was sent in towards the tail-end of the first set. The Philippines was threatening to steal the frame, having rallied from five points down, 19-24, to just one point, 23-24.
"Noong mapasok si KYK sa first set, lahat kami nagtititigan, 'goal, goal,'" said Gonzaga. "So siguro, na-boost ang morale namin, na kailangan pa namin pag-igihan."
[When KYK entered in the first set, we were looking at each other, because we accomplished our goal. That also boosted our morale.]
Kim proceeded to deny the Philippines' comeback attempt, as she scored the crosscourt kill to end the first frame. KYK saw action in all three frames, even starting Set 3, as Korea swept the Philippines, 25-23, 25-18, 25-12.
For the Philippine team, however, simply competing against a player of Kim's caliber is an accomplishment unto itself.
"It was an honor na 'yung top player nila ay nilaro sa amin," said Philippines coach Francis Vicente.
"One of the world's best 'yan," he added. "Pero for me, it's an honor na pinasok si KYK doon sa loob. Nakita niyo naman – sobrang lakas talaga noong tao. Pero kahit papaano, ako natutuwa kasi lumalaban ang mga bata."
"Kahit na alam na nating isa sila sa pinakamalakas na team sa mundo, nakakatuwa, kasi lumalaban sila. Nakikita mo, pwede tayong manalo. Kinakapos lang sa bandang huli," he also said.
[It was an honor for us to play against their top player. She's one of the best in the world. We saw how strong she was, but I'm happy because our team fought back. Even against one of the best teams in the world, we fought well.]
For Gonzaga, playing against Kim was made more special as she served as the Philippines' first line of defense against the powerful, skilled South Korean star.
"Ako, katapat ko si KYK. Grabe. Aim ko na ma-touch ko bola, ma-touch ko lang naman, malaking bagay na," said Gonzaga. "Kanina, naka-block ako sa kanya one time. Nakaka-boost ng morale."
[I was the one assigned to block KYK. I just tried to get a touch off her attack. I managed to block her once, and that was a morale-booster for me.]
Ultimately, the Filipinas could do little against Kim, who converted nine of her 12 attacks while also tallying three aces. KYK was at her best in the third set, when she connected on all of her six attempts and scored off her serve twice.
For Alyssa Valdez, simply getting to see the towering Kim across the net is already an inspiration to her and the rest of the team.
"It's so nice, playing against international players, not only because they're good," said Valdez, who had seven points in the loss.
"They're really inspiring," she stressed. "Playing with them is such a good inspiration and motivation to continue playing. And siyempre, iba din talaga ang presence niya inside the court, and iba ang nadadala niya sa team niya."
"We're just really lucky na nabigyan kami ng pagkakataon na ma-experience namin as a team 'yung presence niya, 'yung galing niya, 'yung capability niya, 'yung tinatawag talagang quality player."
[KYK brings a different presence inside the court. We're just really lucky to experience playing against her and see how good she is, the quality that she brings inside the court.]
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