MANILA, Philippines—Creamline star Alyssa Valdez is upbeat heading into the 30th Southeast Asian Games, as the Philippines has put together a veteran lineup that is bolstered by the addition of powerful Fil-American spiker Kalei Mau.
Valdez will be participating in her third SEA Games, having also suited up in 2015 in Singapore and in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur. In both editions, the Philippine national women's volleyball team failed to make the podium.
"Nakakataba ng puso na pang-tatlong sunod-sunod na SEA Games ko na, and hopefully third time is the charm to get that medal," said Valdez, who was the country's flag-bearer in the 2015 SEA Games.
"Hopefully po, nagdadasal kami. And sana matindi talaga ang paghahanda ng team talaga para siyempre, hindi mawala 'yung hope din ng bawat Filipino sa gusto nating ma-achieve na darating na SEA Games.
"I'm really happy to be part of the line-up this coming SEA Games."
Also returning for national team duty is skipper Abigail Maraño, Jovelyn Gonzaga, and Rhea Dimaculangan -- all of whom will be participating in their third SEA Games as well.
Jia Morado also joins the team in what will be her second SEA Games appearance, while Mika Reyes, Majoy Baron, and Maddie Madayag will be the team's middle blockers.
Joining Mau and Valdez on the wings are Ces Molina, Mylene Paat, and rookie star Eya Laure. Dawn Macandili and Kath Arado are the team's liberos.
Valdez is thrilled with the team's lineup, noting that she is joined by veteran campaigners who have been representing the Philippines since 2015, when the country made its return to the SEA Games' volleyball competitions.
"I'm really blessed to be around also by veteran players na matagal ko nang nakasama since 2015, and mas nadagdagan pa tayo ng mga firepower natin," said Valdez, who appeared in the launch of MILO's partnership with PHISGOC on Thursday at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay.
"Mas madami tayong mabibigay hopefully this SEA Games," she said. "Sana, makuha namin 'yung chemistry and sana maganda talaga yung performance namin this coming SEA Games."
Perhaps the most exciting addition to the national team is Mau, the powerful spiker from F2 Logistics who anchored the team's offense in the first leg of the ASEAN Grand Prix in Thailand.
"Iche-cheer ko lang si Kalei Mau," Valdez said in jest.
"Hindi, I'm kidding," she quickly added. "You know, Kalei Mau is really a fighter, a brave girl. I mean, who wouldn't want Kalei Mau in your team talaga."
Valdez praised Mau's all-around skills, and expressed her excitement to finally team up with the towering hitter. The two have yet to see action together, as Valdez missed the first leg of the ASEAN Grand Prix, while Mau missed the second leg that was hosted in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
"I'm just really looking forward to be teammates with her, to play with her, not against her 'no, to be with her, to play with her and really support each other," said Valdez. "Nagte-training naman kami together, but not in games pa.
"So, for Kalei Mau, I'm just really gonna be here supporting her, kasi for sure, other teams are scouting her also at the same time," she added.
"So tutulungan lang namin siya para mabigay niya ang full potential niya, and siyempre, mas masarap yung first time na experience niya sa national team."
The former Ateneo superstar is also looking forward to playing with Laure, the reigning UAAP Rookie of the Year who helped University of Santo Tomas make it to the Finals in Season 81. Laure, at just 20 years old, is the youngest member of the team.
"Parang hindi naman kasi rookie yung bata, parang ang tagal niya nang naglalaro," said Valdez of Laure. "When she's inside the court, we're all equal kasi. So hindi mo siya titingnan as bata, as rookie."
"Iba ang nadadalang presence at energy ni Eya pagdating sa laro or sa training, kasi siya din yung nagbibigay sa amin na parang, 'Bata pa lang 'to, ganito na 'yung energy na binibigay niya, ganito na 'yung puso na binibigay niya'," she added.
"So kaming mga veterans, nai-inspire din kami sa kanya."
The women's volleyball competition in the SEA Games begins on November 28 at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. The Philippines is searching for its first podium finish since 2005, when the team placed third in the SEA Games held in Manila.
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