Alas Pilipinas’ dream run ends in AVC Challenge Cup semifinals loss to Kazakhstan

Alas Pilipinas’ championship aspirations in the 2024 AVC Challenge Cup came to an abrupt halt following a straight-set defeat to Kazakhstan in the semifinals on Tuesday. The match, held at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, ended with scores of 23-25, 21-25, and 14-25, sending the Filipinas to the battle for third place.

The Philippine national women’s volleyball team, who had been on an unbeaten streak throughout the pool play, faced a formidable challenge against the world No. 30 Kazakhstan. Despite their valiant efforts, the Filipinas struggled to maintain their momentum against the towering and methodical Kazakh squad.

Nineteen-year-old Arah Panique emerged as a standout performer for the Philippines, scoring a team-high 14 points through 10 attacks, three blocks, and one ace. Her entry into the first set provided an immediate impact, helping the hosts recover from a significant 11-point deficit (10-21) with a massive 12-2 run that brought them within one point at 22-23. However, a backrow kill from Kazakhstan’s Margarita Belchenko dashed the comeback hopes as the visitors secured the first set.

Kazakhstan’s performance was spearheaded by team captain Sana Anarkulova, who tallied 19 points through 18 attacks and a block, while Svetlana Nikolayeva added 11 markers. The Kazakh team’s strategic plays and height advantage proved to be decisive factors throughout the match.

In the second set, Alas Pilipinas kept pace with Kazakhstan until midway through, when the Kazakhs extended an 11-10 lead to 21-16. Fifi Sharma and Jia Morado’s aces helped the Filipinas close the gap to 20-22, but a miscommunication on the second ball during a crucial play allowed Kazakhstan to secure a 2-0 set lead.

The third set saw Kazakhstan capitalize on their momentum, swiftly building a commanding 23-14 lead. The Filipinas’ efforts to stage a comeback were marred by errors, culminating in a rotational error that handed Kazakhstan the match point. A powerful running attack from Kazakhstan sealed the final set and clinched their place in the finals.

Despite the loss, the Philippines’ performance throughout the tournament has been commendable. The team, led by the tenacity of players like Panique and the strategic acumen of their coaching staff, showcased their potential against some of the world’s best teams.

Alas Pilipinas’ journey in the AVC Challenge Cup may have ended in heartbreak, but their campaign is far from over. They will face Australia in the battle for third place, aiming to secure a spot on the podium and continue their historic run. The match is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29, at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Additionally, the Philippines has qualified for the FIVB Challenger Cup, set to be hosted by the country in July. This presents another opportunity for the team to showcase their skills on an international stage and build on their recent performances.

Alongside Panique’s impressive display, other notable contributions came from Angel Canino, who scored nine points, all from spikes, and Sisi Rondina, who added eight points. Fifi Sharma contributed six markers, while Eya Laure and Thea Gagate were limited to three points each.

The Filipinas’ resilience and determination have been evident throughout the tournament, and they remain hopeful of ending their campaign on a high note with a victory against Australia.

As Alas Pilipinas prepares for their next challenge, fans and supporters remain optimistic about the team’s future. The AVC Challenge Cup has provided valuable experience and highlighted areas for growth, ensuring that the team will continue to improve and compete at the highest levels.

The upcoming match against Australia offers a chance for redemption and a potential podium finish, which would be a significant achievement for Philippine volleyball. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan advances to the finals, where they will face Vietnam in a bid for the gold medal.

Both matches promise to deliver thrilling volleyball action and will be closely watched by enthusiasts and supporters alike. Stay tuned for more updates as the AVC Challenge Cup reaches its exciting conclusion.