When Malditas coach Alen Stajcic oversaw the Visayas tryouts for the women’s U17 and U20 team in Cebu a couple of weeks ago, he said that though there were a lot of promising players, most of those who showed up didn’t have the stamina for the international game.
However, Stajcic, who was surprisingly amiable despite the stern image one sees of him on TV, said there were a few players whom he thinks could make the pool.
Now, we know who the few are — Rae Mikella Tolentino, Jodi Marie Banzon and Celina Beatrice Salazar — in the U20 and Jelena Loren Soon and Rhiauna dela Calzada in the U17. They are familiar names who figure prominently in local and even national meets. I first saw Banzon when she was 11 during my son’s first stint at the Don Bosco Technology Center summer clinic and she was running circles around boys her age. I knew then that she was a player who’d make a name for herself.
Jelena, the daughter of my friend John, is a name most readers of the sports section are familiar with, having regularly featured for champion teams as she progressed through the age groups. She was also part of the Philippine delegation that had a two-week stint at Barcelona’s youth academy five years back, an experience that changed her life.
John, who is always present for his daughter’s games, is beyond proud of the call-up. And is hoping his daughter gets to show her best during the brief 10-day camp, which is in preparation for the Japan-Asean Youth Sports Exchange tournament in Tokyo and Okinawa on March 15 to 24.
Right now, Jelena is doing some conditioning work with coach Robert Nicart to prepare her for camp since the stamina of those who showed in the tryouts was one of the things Stajcic noticed.
The five players also have the enviable chance of being on an extended trial for the women’s national team. Stajcic will be handling both the U17 and U20, which I think is the first time a World Cup-bound coach is handling two youth teams and I’m sure the Australian will have his eye on the rare few who will stand out in the youth tournaments.
He has already given senior spots to a couple of teens, so I know Stajcic won’t hesitate to call up any of the U17 and U20 players whom he thinks deserves a World Cup spot.
To the five — Rae, Jodi, Celena, Jelena, and Rhiauna — good luck in your stint with the youth teams and may you all achieve your dreams.
As for the proud stage father John, since his girls’ team has lost its key players to national team duties, his boys’ team is doing the trophy collection for Cebu Elite Sheba FC, this time in Bayawa City.
The team of Zavier Castanares, Lleyton John Soon, John Hames Santos, Bryant Julyant Monsanto, Jan Michael Yu, Keith Bentain, Lester Longakit, Mark Tinapay, Justin de Asia, Japeth Soco, Dwayne Requillo and LeBron James Fuentes defeated the San Carlos City Futbolitos, 2-0, in the finals.
Imagine, a champion football team with players named Bryant, Japeth, Dwayne and LeBron.