BIÑAN CITY: Import Lindsay Stalzer and Jaja Santiago made surprise appearances, but their presence was not enough as Foton Pilipinas absorbed a 25-27, 18-25, 21-25 setback to Altay VC of Kazakhstan at the end of pool play of the 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship Wednesday at the Alonte Sports Arena.
Despite being ruled out the day before due to various reasons, Stalzer and Santiago still competed for the Tornadoes, who melted against the taller, heftier Kazakhs in this prestigious continental battle organized by the Philippine Superliga, Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. and the city government of Binan headed by Congresswoman Len Alonte.
Also emerging victorious in this tourney bankrolled by SMM Sport, Nike, Senoh, Asics, Mikasa, Foton, BMW, Rexona, PLDT and Price Waterhouse Cooper with Crimson Hotel as official residence, and TV5 and SMMTV of Thailand as official broadcast partners was NEC Red Rockets of Japan, which crushed Thongtin Lienvietpost Bank of Vietnam, 25-15, 25-19, 25-13, in the first match.
With the win, the Japanese finished the second round on top of Group E to book a quarterfinal battle with the loser between T. Grand of Chinese Taipei and Sarmayeh Bank of Iran, who are still playing as of press time.
Foton Pilipinas, meanwhile, fell to fourth spot in Group E and will tackle the winner between Bangkok Glass of Thailand and Ba’yi Shenzheng of China in the other quarterfinal pairing.
Quarterfinals erupt on Friday after the tourney takes a one-day break on Thursday.
Although Tornadoes’ head coach Fabio Menta admitted that he is more comfortable playing against the Thais after facing them in the 2016 Sealect Tuna Thailand Volleyball League three weeks ago, he knows their fate is no longer on their hands.
“We played with the Thailand national team and Bangkok Glass in Sisaket three weeks ago and we did pretty well. It was such a tight ballgame,” said Menta, the Italian strategist who called the shots for the Cook Islands national women’s team last year.
But against Altay VC, a squad powered by four imports and a Turkish mentor, the Tornadoes managed to put up a gallant stand in the first set before completely collapsing.
Stalzer, who missed a couple of games after being bothered by back spasms the past few days, made her return while 6-foot-5 Santiago also suited up despite a pending duty for her National University team in a collegiate tournament.
Stalzer spearheaded the assault with nine kills and two blocks for 11 points while Santiago had six kills, two blocks and two aces for 10 hits together with another American reinforcement in Ariel Usher, who also had 10 markers for Foton Pilipinas.
“Actually, I was expecting this kind of game,” said Menta, whose wards nearly stole the thunder in the first set if not for a couple of errors down the stretch.
“The Kazakhstan team was not just taller, it was also more disciplined than us. I was satisfied with how we performed and I think we won something despite losing in the scoreboard.”
Menta added that his team failed to neutralize the height advantage of the Kazakhs and didn’t exert speed and energy on both ends, especially in the second and third sets.
“Our game plan was obvious. Since they are taller than us, we have to move faster than them,” he said. “But it was okay. For us, this is a new experience. It is our first time to play against a team taller than us and I think we did quite pretty well.”
Sana Anarkulova finished with 16 hits while Inna Matveyeva and Vanya Varbanova chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Kazakhs, who had more attack points, 46-31, and lesser errors, 18-21, than the Filipinos.