Filipino bets stood their ground against top-ranked opponents, but still fell short down the wire in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge qualifiers on Thursday at the world-class Nuvali Sand Courts in Santa Rosa City.
Anthony Arbasto and Alche Gupiteo duked it out against world No. 157 Yusuke Ishijima and Takumi Takahashi of Japan before running out of steam in the third set of the men’s qualification for a gritty 18-21, 21-19, 11-15 defeat.
The Philippine tandem held its own in the three close sets highlighted by a thrilling 21-19 win in the second frame of the biggest beach volleyball event ever hosted by the country behind the leadership of Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) president Ramon “Tats” Suzara.
Two more Filipino duos fell in the opener of the elite four-day tournament organized by the Volleyball World, which also holds the prominent Volleyball Nations League, but not without a fight under the scorching heat.
National team first-timers Sofiah Pagara and Khylem Progella did not shy away from the challenge despite an 18-21, 16-21 defeat against world No. 47 Zhu Lingdi and Shuting Cao of China, in the women’s qualification.
The veteran pair of James Buytrago and Rancel Varga also succumbed to world No. 85 Issa Batrane and Frederick Bialokoz of England, 11-21, 12-21, in the men’s division.
The Philippines though is still in play with Jen Eslapor and Floremel Rodriguez in women’s as well as Ran Abdilla and Jaron Requinton in men’s already through to the 24-team main draw of the world tiff supported by gold sponsors Ayala Land, Mikasa, Senoh, Philippine Sports Commission, Pinay In Action and Smart as gold sponsors and PLDT, Gatorade, Maynilad, Rebisco, Ayala Malls, Department of Tourism, CBPI, Club Laiya, Foton as bronze sponsors.
Brazilian Jao Luciano Kiodai mentors the Filipino spikers in their battle against the sand giants, composed of top-ranked players, Olympians and world champions from over 30 countries.
Only sixteen teams in each gender are in the main draw so far with eight more teams booking their spots from the ongoing qualifications as of press time to complete the 24-squad cast slugging it out for the Nuvali crown.
The Nuvali leg of the BPT is the last stop before the finals on Dec. 6 to 9 in Doha, Qatar after trips in Mexico, Brazil, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, France, India, China and Thailand.
It also serves as a gigantic stage for countries to earn much-needed points to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The PNVF hosting of the BPT comes on the heels of the country’s championship in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Futures courtesy of Jovelyn Gonzaga and Sisi Rondina last year as well as a commendable fifth-place finish by Eslapor and Rodriguez this year in the Asian Games beach volleyball in Hangzhou, China.