As women’s volleyball in the country surges in popularity, it’s only apt to take a look at the best athletes in the court today. With local volleyball tournaments becoming more competitive (no small thanks to the influx of incredibly talented imports), collegiate leagues steadily boasting of top-calibre players, and grassroots programs picking up, choosing the best of the best is difficult. This list is in no way an objective attempt. How can one be when you’ve got such a talented crop of volleyball stars?
Nevertheless, this evaluation takes into consideration the individual skills of the player, alongside her experiences, her contribution to the sport’s popularity, and her overall impact to volleyball scene. Feel free to disagree, to make your own list of the best, or to share insights into the team sport we all love. But also understand that the man who writes this has his long-held prejudices inspiring him to honor the top players below.
The setter’s role in volleyball cannot, and should never be discounted. After all, she serves as the orchestrator of the offense, playing a role similar to the quarterback in American football. Without a capable setter, a team will go nowhere. In fact, you can have the most talented of spikers in one team, but without a setter who can smartly take advantage of her team’s offensive prowess, the best of the best attackers would only deliver subpar performances.
To me, a superb setter is characterized by her ability to adjust to the quirks and fancies of her attackers, as well as her court smarts which allows her to make lightning-fast decisions in choosing her offensive options. In this regard, I find Rubie de Leon, an alumna of the University of Santo Tomas, as the best player to posses the above-mentioned qualities. What Rubie lacks in height, she more than makes up with her fast sets, choreographing a slew of plays which continues to fool even the best blockers. Not only is her taste in orchestrating intricate combination plays a stunning display of her on-court composure, she’s got a gritty attitude that affords her to turn sloppy receptions into opportunities for points. She’s also an offensive-minded setter, capable of deceptive second-ball attacks and deadly float serves.
Speaking of serves, another alumna of the University of Santo Tomas, Rhea Dimaculangan, is highly qualified to be considered the best. Her low-profile, unassuming demeanour is in stark contrast to Rubie De Leon’s on-court persona, but she’s an equally cerebral setter with serves that can be a nightmare to an opposing team’s reception. For the local Asian volleyball scene, Rhea can be considered a tall setter. Standing at 5’7”, her height does not make her a liability when she is in the front row. We’ve seen her block the strongest and tallest of open spikers across all sorts of tournaments, and this additional defensive quality is certainly a luxury for her coach and team.
Jem Ferrer from the Ateneo de Manila University almost made the cut. While her playing style is more similar to De Leon’s low-fast sets, her tendency to be impatient with her offense, and have her confidence dampened when her team is catching up affected how I evaluated her. Although her setting could be argued to be smarter than that of De Leon and Dimaculangan (she’s been awarded Best Setter across countess leagues multiple times), her height has proven to be a liability especially in blocking. Still, she’s a commendable athlete who has proven in the many successful campaigns of the Ateneo women’s team that height is not always might.
Kim Fajardo of the DLSU Lady Spikers is probably the setter now with the most potential. In her first year in UAAP, she probably enjoyed even more playing time than another talented setter, former Rookie of the Year, Mika Esperanza. Her gutsiness on court reminds me of De Leon, while her setting smarts is a throwback to Dimaculangan and Ferrer’s cerebral approach to setting. I would not be surprised if Coach Ramil De Jesus chooses her over Esperanza as the starting setter of the Lady Spikers.
Din Din Santiago, is without a doubt, the best Filipino middle attacker in the country today. From the moment she stepped into collegiate volleyball with her towering (by Filipino standards) 6’2” frame, she has transformed into an all-around offensive beast on the court.
A product of the successful UST Girl’s Volleyball Team under Coach Francis Vicente’s program – which also produced the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Kim Fajardo, Maruja Banaticla, and Din Din’s younger and taller sister, Jaja – Din Din Santiago’s impact to the volleyball scene cannot be denied. Despite her short stint with the Tigresses, she enjoyed winning several championships for the UST Women’s Volleyball team.
Now the centerpiece of the much revitalized NU Women’s Volleyball Program, Din Din’s strength is in her incredible offensive arsenal – running spikes, quick hits, powerful back row attacks, and even open spikes. Since the introduction of the libero, middle attackers have no longer been expected to do much in defense. As a receiving middle attacker, Din Din has proven she’s more than capable with her floor defense.
Royse Tubino, from the University of Perpetual Help, is another incredible middle attacker who deserves a mention. Although not as tall as Din Din, her presence in front of the court is just as intimidating. Often overlooked due to the NCAA getting less media coverage, Tubino has been crucial to the success of her school’s volleyball program, dethroning NCAA powerhouse San Sebastian from their six-year reign. Thanks to local volleyball leagues and the recent stint of the Philippine women’s volleyball team at the AVC, viewers finally got a glimpse of Tubino’s prowess as a middle attacker.Maika Ortiz’ running attack
Maika Ortiz is also one of the better middle attackers today. In fact, she has in my opinion, the most powerful running attack in the local volleyball scene. Ortiz’, though, has her timing in attacks as both her blessing and her curse. Given the perfect set – usually from Rhea Dimaculangan – her running attack is unstoppable. But given a lacklustre or mediocre setter, she has a difficult time adjusting her timing and approach to make the most out of bad sets.
In spite of Din Din’s offensive prowess, I find Mika Reyes to be the best middle blocker in the country today. Unlike Santiago and Tubino, Reyes’ power at the net would pale in comparison. Her quick attacks, although strong enough for a kill or point, are usually well-placed shots or tips. Still, this is a testament to her court smarts. What I do commend Reyes for is her incredible blocking skills. At 5’11”, her reach during the block can defend against the highest of leapers. And in the UAAP, she’s certainly up against powerhouse offensive athletes. Time and again, we’ve also seen how Mika Reyes has proven to be a clutch player. Aside from her smart offensive moves, and her impenetrable blocking, she can also be depended on the service line for aces – often stringing a couple just at the right time.
Abby Maraño’s heart more than makes up for her height. While she’s only around 5’8 ½” – which is short for most middle blockers – her heart cannot be measured. She can read attackers just as well as the taller middle blockers and foil even the most complex of combination plays. And she most deserves to be the captain of the powerhouse DLSU Women’s Volleyball Team.One on One with the team captain of the DLSU Lady Spikers
In several occasions during the last UAAP season, we saw the Lady Spikers down two sets against rival teams like Ateneo and NU, only to rally behind the exemplary leadership of this young lady. Her confidence, her energy, and her pure dedication to the game are unrivaled. Without her, I doubt DLSU could have won many crucial matches in the recent collegiate tournament. Being the Best Blocker in the most recent UAAP season is just a small recognition to Maraño’s talent. After all, she’s also a back-to-back UAAP Season MVP.
Other notable middle blockers today include Wenneth Eulalio, who has vastly improved in the V-League, as well as Maureen Penetrante, who may be way past her prime, but still consistently delivers with her trademark La Salle net defense.
Alyssa Valdez is certainly the best open spiker today. She wasn’t a prized recruit after graduating from UST High School for nothing. While in her rookie and sophomore years we saw Alyssa Valdez as an offensive beast – delivering crucial attacks in a variety of angles, executing running attacks and incredible combination plays in the middle – we’re now seeing this prodigious athlete as a highly improved defensive open spiker as well. After all, volleyball tradition puts a lot of defensive weight on the open spiker who assists the libero in reception and digging duties.
We all know what this girl can do to a ball regardless of how it’s set to her, or what position she is playing (she can be utilized as a middle attacker as well). In the V-League, we finally see Valdez digging powerful attacks from opponents and making commendable reception for the Smart-Maynilad team. Today, her backrow attacks are only equaled by former teammate turned rival Din Din Santiago. This talent should not go unnoticed for the local volleyball commission when forming a national team.
Ara Galang rivals Alyssa Valdez as one of the best young open spikers we have today. Although her attacks are less flashy as Valdez’, they are just as powerful and effective. She would not be the Rookie of the Year and UAAP Co-MVP if her offense was lacking. But it’s her maturity as a volleyball player which sets her apart from other open spikers. Her talent was well-showcased last UAAP season, ranking in almost all of the scoring and non-scoring departments of the league. Imagine if she could also set! She is certainly the most exciting all-around player we have today. Her popularity cannot be disregarded considering the fact she’s in a star-studded DLSU team.
If we’re talking about veteran open spikers, Angeli Tabaquero takes the cake. While former teammate Venus Bernal remains unequivocally one of the most powerful wing spikers to grace the local volleyball scene, Tabaquero’s dedication and continuing presence in the court must be recognized. She remains a talented all-around player as well, in spite of injuries incurred across a number of tournaments. As the team captain of the recently formed Philippine women’s volleyball team, Tabaquero’s effortless attacking and defensive agility is a gold standard among many open spikers today. Her efficiency and court demeanour incorporates experience, dedication, and just the right amount of gutsy attitude to send a message to opponents and critics alike.
Other promising young open spikers include Frances Molina, Janine Marciano, and Gretchen Soltones from the NCAA. Through the V-League open conference where they played in different teams (Molina and Marciano for PNP, Soltones for Smart-Maynilad), we saw these three’s tremendous talent which we hope will continue to grow in the coming years.
Without a doubt, Aiza Maizo remains the best opposite the country has produced. Honed under the helm of legendary Coach Sta. Maria, this multi-awarded Tigress has proven time and again hard-work trumps over everything else. In the recent AVC, she was the leading scorer for the national team, contributing in blocks, attacks, services, and providing commendable reception and digging as well. Her relatively low-profile attitude inside the court (no fist pumps, no trash talking, no finger-wagging) is in sharp contrast to her attacking prowess which never fails to elicit the awe and respect of viewers, and fellow players alike. In her prime, Maizo single-handedly put value in the opposite position, in a local volleyball scene still so highly favoring open spikers. Despite motherhood and injuries, she continues to shine as she makes her way back to tip-top form while participating in several volleyball leagues. An all-around volleyball player equipped with solid fundamentals – blocking, attacking, receiving – Maizo’s ability to adjust to any team or setter’s play is a testament to her strengths.Aiza Maizo outsmarting the talented Ting
Fellow Illongga and beach volley success story Jovelyn Gonzaga is definitely up there with Maizo too. Like Maizo, this lefty-spiker from the Central Philippine University has achieved success both on the beach volley circuit and the indoor volleyball tournaments. Playing as a guest player across several teams in the last few years, Gonzaga has found her rhythm as the opposite for the Philippine Army Lady Troopers. Recently awarded as the Most Valuable Player of the V-League and in the first edition of the SuperLiga, this CPU standout’s offensive and defensive efficiency puts her head and shoulders against most opposite spikers in the country today.
Michelle Gumabao is one of the better right-handed opposite players we’ve seen in recent years, alongside Ateneo’s Dzi Gervacio, who transitioned from the open spiker to the right side to make room for Alyssa Valdez’ rookie year. Gumabao’s strength lies in her blocking, but she’s a capable attacker as well. Gervacio, on the other hand, brings so much power to her attacks, and carries one of the most lethal jump serves in the local volleyball scene.
To me, the triumvirate of Melissa Gohing, Jen Reyes, and Lizlee Ann Gata represent the best floor defenders of the court today. Jen Reyes’ tiny frame can be an annoying speck of dust on the eyes of her opponents, providing impeccable reception which led to NU breaking into the Final Four of the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament. Time and again, Reyes has been called by top teams, including Philippine delegations to other countries, to provide defensive reinforcement in volleyball tournaments.
Gohing has her share of critics but her four UAAP championships beg to differ. While her consistency can still improve, this DLSU alum’s performance in crucial matches cannot be denied. Her final games in the UAAP were a spectacle of digging, rolling, and literally mopping the floor to defend against all sorts of offensive barrage from the Ateneo women’s team. Today, she’s the best digger in the V-League.
And of course, Gata is the gold standard of what a libero should be. Her collegiate years with the Adamson Lady Falcons showcased her marvellous defensive skills, unperturbed by the most difficult of services, and unafraid of the most powerful of spikes. She makes receiving and digging look so easy. Her talent did not go unnoticed during her stint in the AVC as part of the national team. Legendary Olympian Lang Ping commended this Lady Falcons’ reception against the heavy, float serves of the Chinese team, proving once again Gata’s talent is up to par with the world’s best.
Most Promising Player
Din Din Santiago’s younger sister, Jaja Santiago, is the most promising player we have right now. Standing 6’4”, this towering high school standout is the most awaited addition to the NU squad looking to derail DLSU’s championship reign. We’ve seen her training videos with the national team. We’ve seen her play as a middle attacker in NU’s winning V-League campaign with her sister. Now the excitement lies on how Coach Edjet Mabbayad chooses to utilize her. Her height can be a great addition to the middle attacker/blocker position, but many experts also see Jaja as a possible wing spiker. Her spiking reach will be a problem for many blockers, as her vaunted net defense is going to be headache for attackers too. While we wonder if she compliments her sister in the middle or be transformed into an international-caliber opposite spiker, we have footage online of her amazing potential to savor. Whatever position this young lady plays, I’m sure she’s going to make an impact we have never seen in the local volleyball scene so far.