THERE was a time the Philippines was among the big fish in men’s water polo in Southeast Asia, virtually battling perennial SEA Games champion Singapore on even terms.
The record shows that Pinoy campaigners have won five silver medals in the SEA Games, settling as bridesmaids to the Singaporeans, who are aiming for their 28th straight crown in the 30th edition of regional games the country is hosting for the fourth time.
In 2005, when the Philippines last hosted the Games, the Filipino water polo athletes suffered a heartbreaking 5-6 setback to the mighty Sea Lions.
While they may not be up to par yet with the defending champions, national coach Rey Galang believes they are slowly catching up, the reason he is eyeing a podium finish for his charges, who open their campaign against past tormentor Indonesia at the New Clark City Aquatic Center in Capas, Tarlac today.
“Last time we placed fourth in the Malaysia SEA Games so now we’re aiming for a podium finish,” said Galang, whose wards tackle the Indons in the last match of a triple header at 7 p.m.
The day opens with Singapore taking on defending women’s champion Thailand at 10 a.m. while Malaysia faces Thailand in the other men’s match at 5 p.m.
The Filipino campaigners won once and lost three matches in the 2017 Games, including a 2-5 loss to Indonesia, which finished runner-up to Singapore.
“But we already beat the Indonesians twice in international play this year so we are confident about our chances against them,” said Galang, a former national player.
He added their stint in last month’s FINA Water Polo Challenger’s Cup in Singapore was a huge boost for his players.
Pinoy bets wound up fifth overall among the 10 teams that saw action in the competition, and among their losses was an 7-11 decision to the Singaporeans in the group stage.
Galang admitted that Singapore is still the team to beat. The two squads collide on Friday just before the opening ceremonies at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan the next day.
The bespectacled mentor stressed that given the single-round format of the five-team tournament “every game is a must-win for all the squads. We can ill-afford to relax against any of these teams.”
With only three teams, including the Philippines, the women’s water polo competition will be a double-round series, with only the gold and silver to be awarded at the end of the event.
National women’s coach Aldo Tong is hoping his team will secure one of them, considering that his squad is reinforced by Fil-Ams, bannered by twin siblings Haden Skye Alysabeth Bates and Kieran Scout Noelle Bates.
Alysabeth, a goalkeeper, and Scout, an attacker, are freshman varsity players at the University Redlands in Southern California, an NCAA Division school that plays in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I believe this is the reason why one of the countries backed out once it learned we had Fil-Ams in the team,” Tong said.
The women’s water polo team takes to the pool for the first time against Singapore tomorrow, Wednesday.