PH Blu Girls promise medal from Asian Softball Championship
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Women's National Softball team, the PH Blu Girls, will compete in the 11th Asian Women's Softball Championship from November 28 to December 5 in Taichung City, Taiwan, bringing them a step closer to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"[A medal] is not a possibility, but a promise," head coach Randy Dizer said.
The tournament will see the Philppines go up against 12 teams, including Asian softball giants Japan (world number 1), China (world number 6), and Chinese Taipei (world number 9), which will be broken down to two divisions.
In 2016, the International Olympic Committee officially announced that softball will be added in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. However, only 6 countries in the world can qualify, and Japan has an automatic slot for being the host country.
The team that will be sent to Taiwan is a mix of the best local players in the country, with former Ateneo de Manila University player Cheska Altomonte captaining the young 33-woman squad.
The UAAP stars in the lineup are Dione Macasu from the University of the Philippines; Arianne Vallestero, Mia Macapagal, Shaira Damasing, and Lovely Arago from National University; Celestine Palma, Cristy Roa, and Mary Ann Antolihao from Season 79 1st runner-up University of Santo Tomas; and Queeny Sabobo, Lorna Adorable, Riezel Calumbres, Annalie Benjamen, Angelie Ursabia, Florabele Pabiania, and Riflayca Basa from 7-peat UAAP champions Adamson University.
There will be 16 Filipino-Americans included in the team, with some of them returning to the Philippine team after their previous international stints earlier this year. These include Chelsea Suitos, Gabrielle Rodas, Jaqueline Pascual, Kayla Joyce, Skylynne Ellazar, Kailey Hill, Alyssa Pinto, Kailee Cuico, Reese Guevarra, Hailey Decker, Gabrielle Maurice, Garie Blando, Dani Gilmore, Taryn Atlee, Chaela Galapo, and Abigail Millete.
The Philippines has long been known as the "Southeast Asia's Queens of Softball," having bagged the Southeast Asian Games gold medal in 1979, 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2015.
In July 2017, the Blu Girls had a successful run to their World Cup of Softball XII and Canada Cup International Softball Championship campaign.
The Philippines – currently ranked world number 17 – managed to defeat world number 3 Canada twice, world number 4 Australia, and Asian number 3 Chinese Taipei in the competitions.
The success from these two championships was a trailblazing moment for the Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines' (ASAPHIL) softball program, as this further raised their hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Long winding road
ASAPHIL was already eyeing the 2020 Olympics when it revitalized its women's national softball program in 2014. This spearheaded the recruitment of Filipino-American players that aimed to fortify the team and raised the standards of Philippine softball.
"Before that (2014), there were already inquiries of the national team so what we did was they submitted some biodatas, videos, and from there, we tried to look at their records there. We went to the States. We stayed there for 3 months. PSC helped us fund the trip. So from there, it was the start of the Fil-Am program," said Dizer.
After 3 years of finetuning the program up to the present, the pathway to the 2020 Olympics is still clouded with uncertainty as the Blu Girls have to battle out through every major competition starting on their upcoming tournament in Taiwan.
The 11th Asian Softball Championship will serve as the qualifiers to the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the Women's World Softball Championships that will be held in Tokyo, Japan.
The top 5 teams of this championship will advance to next year's regional competition, while the top 3 are immediately catapulted to the world championships.
The winner of the 2018 world championships in Tokyo will earn the first of the 5 open slot to the Olympics.
With only 3 major chances to reach the end goal, Jean Lhuillier, the president of ASAPHIL as well as the President and CEO of the PJ Lhuillier Group of Companies, believes that it is still a tough challenge, but the Blu Girls are ready to match up with the best teams in the world starting on Tuesday, November 28.
"I'm very excited for this tournament that is coming up next week. The team is ready and we're looking to show what Philippine softball is all about," said Lhuillier.
"Pilipino tayo, palaban! (We are Filipinos, all fighters!) Even our Fil-Ams have that Filipino blood," said Dizer. "They are all here to play for the flag."
The opening game of the PH Blu Girls will be against Japan, the top team in the world. – Rappler.com