MANILA, Philippines – Given the youth of his team, and the absence of two key players – including an import – a four-set loss to Philippine Navy-Iriga was not a cause for concern for BaliPure head coach Babes Castillo.
The youthful Purest Water Defenders – a team composed of the core of National University's (NU) girls' volleyball team – succumbed to the Lady Oragons in four sets, 23-25, 23-25, 25-22, 19-25, on Wednesday to open their Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Reinforced Conference campaign.
Still, Castillo was satisfied with his team's performance, particularly the teenage players who came through with solid games against a tough Iriga squad.
"I like the way they played, siyempre obviously in the third set that we won. But the first two sets, I think, was anybody's ball game," Castillo said. "For the kids, may hesitation lang."
"May hesitation noong first two sets eh. Mayroon tayong mga points na we should have taken, pero 'yun nga, hesitation," he added.
This was to be expected, said Castillo, as a bulk of his players are still in high school. Indeed, the only veterans who saw major minutes on Wednesday were import Alexis Matthews and NU mainstay Roselyn Doria.
"I expected that kasi they are very young. But okay naman, I liked it," said Castillo.
Inactive on Wednesday were import Janisa Johnson – who arrived in the Philippines early that morning – as well as two-time UAAP girls' volleyball Most Valuable Player Faith Nisperos, as she is still nursing an ankle injury.
It was Mhicaela Belen, the UAAP Season 80 girls' volleyball MVP, who led BaliPure in scoring with 17 points. Matthews added 15 markers, and Princess Robles – the Finals MVP in Season 79 – added 15 points of her own.
Also showing signs of potential was young utility hitter Alyssa Solomon, who finished with eight points in the loss.
"I like the way they responded. They were very aggressive in their own level," Castillo said of his young stars, many of whom will still be playing in the high school division in the next UAAP season. "They just have to step up one notch higher, which I think will not be difficult for them as they progress."
"Sabi ko nga, mag-evolve lang kayo nang mag-evolve, and I think we can get it," he said.
Castillo was especially proud of how the 15-year-old Belen performed.
"Happy ako sa production ni Belen, for a 15-year-old," said the coach.
However, he also pointed out that it was just their first game of the conference.
"Siyempre mahaba pa 'yan, you don't know how they're gonna respond to the consistent pressure from the elite players. So hindi natin alam," said Castillo.
Castillo now intends to shuffle his rotation for BaliPure's next match, set for May 16 against Petro Gazz. Johnson – who played professionally in France before flying to Manila – should be available by then, as is Nisperos.
"Hopefully, we can expect (Nisperos) by the next game, which is Wednesday. That's the earliest. If not, we have to wait for another week," he said.
Also likely to make her debut is Ivy Lacsina, another one of Castillo's stars in the NU high school team.
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