MANILA, Philippines – BaliPure may have failed to reach the semifinals of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Reinforced Conference, but the Water Defenders still achieved the goal they set for themselves ahead of the competition.
Bannered by the core of National University's (NU) high school team, the Water Defenders put a premium on player development and looked to gain precious experience by competing against veteran teams in the Reinforced Conference.
Coach Babes Castillo said it was mission accomplished for him and his team, after they bowed out of the tournament with a three-set victory over the Tacloban Fighting Warays, 25-18, 25-16, 25-16, last Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
"Overall, I think it's a very productive season for them," Castillo said of his squad, which was headlined by imports Janisa Johnson and Alexis Matthews.
"Sabi ko nga, let's keep it in perspective. It's the first time that majority of a high school squad was fielded in," he noted.
Though their imports – particularly the high-flying, power-spiking Johnson – were the stars, BaliPure's roster was notable for its inclusion of some of the youngest players in the competition. Castillo fielded the bulk of NU's girls' volleyball team, including former MVPs Faith Nisperos and Mhicaele Belen, and former Finals MVP Princess Robles.
Also included in the team is former Best Setter Joyme Cagande, who served as the team captain, libero Jennifer Nierva, and the towering pair of Alyssa Solomon and Ivy Lacsina. Castillo still included some of his collegiate players, such as Roma Doromal and Roselyn Doria, but most of the attention was on his high school stars.
They opened their campaign on a strong note, beating Iriga in four sets with Belen scoring 17 points and Robles adding 15. But even with the addition of Johnson, the Water Defenders were inconsistent, and they ended the preliminary round with a 3-4 win-loss record – thus missing out on an outright semis spot.
Their struggles continued in the quarterfinals, where they won just two of five games. For Castillo, his team's up-and-down play was not surprising.
"It was a good start, but I think we anticipated that they will be challenged midway doon sa liga, because siyempre, mga seasoned and veterans ang mga (kalaban)," Castillo pointed out. "Lumabas nga ang pagkabata nila."
"That's what we saw," he added.
Regardless of the results, however, his players gained tremendous experience that will surely be useful when they return to their school teams. Several of the Water Defenders – notably Solomon – will still play in the high school division in the upcoming UAAP season, while others – such as Cagande and Nierva – will be elevated to the Lady Bulldogs.
"Most of them will go back to high school, so for them I'm sure it's one experience that they can really remember," said Castillo. "It's very unique, kasi they competed against the veterans and the elites."
"I think, tactically, they can see now na ganoon pala sa commercial (league). Hindi lang pwede na kaya mong gumawa ng maraming skills, but you have to remain consistent," he added.
Castillo thus expects his young players to compete at a higher level in the upcoming UAAP season, especially after showing that they can at least go toe-to-toe with some of the best local players in the country, and even against foreign reinforcements.
"It's a very good experience for them, going back to their high school and sa magka-college going into the next UAAP season," said the coach. "I think it's a very good experience for them."
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