by Jerome Lagunzad
Given what she considers as a “dream chance” to don the country’s tri-colors for the very first time, Sta. Lucia star outside hitter Mar-Jana “MJ” Phillips won’t let it slip away.
The 5-foot-10 Filipino-American was among those of the 18 hopefuls who showed up in the initial tryout set by the Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) for the formation of the Philippine national women’s volleyball team ahead of two big international tournaments this year.
Phillips, who will turn just 23 next month, was one of the early birds and even displayed her attacking prowess during the glorified scrimmage, with returning national team coach Ramil De Jesus getting a clear view from the sidelines inside the Arellano gym in Legarda, Manila.
“It’s pretty good,” Philipps, sounding confident, said after the two-hour long training session where she took center stage alongside national team veterans, led by former Ateneo superstar Alyssa Valdez and several La Salle standouts.
“It was kinda hard to adjust at the beginning because I’m not used to them playing side by side with each other. But it feels good. We have lots of top talents here. I’m excited.”
A daughter of a Filipina mother who traces her roots to Iba, Zambales, Phillips admitted that “it’s definitely an honor (to be invited). It’s really one of my dreams and it’s actually happening. I just tried to stay composed and not freak out that much.”
The Nationals are racing against time since they are gearing up for the 18th Jakarta and Palembang Asian Games in Indonesia this September and the Asian Women’s Volleyball Cup in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand the following month.
According to De Jesus, they will form a 25-strong training pool for those tournaments and Phillips is confident she can make the cut “as long as I keep doing what I’m doing and stay focused on the task.”
“I just hope I make it because I want to compete in the Asian Games, SEA Games and other stuff like that in international competitions so I can up my level of playing. That would be great and my parents would be proud of it,” she concluded.