Fille Saint Merced Cainglet: student, volleyball player… NINJA!

She turns 23 today (January 30). What an opportune moment to share with you readers about this young lady from Bacolod who continually changes the landscape of volleyball in her own unique way.

The author with Fille Cainglet during an "informal chat" (Photo: Justin Tec)

This piece is in response to many volleyball fans that have been asking me to do a feature on easily one of the most famed figures in sports today. I actually find it amazing how she does it. Just when we all thought volleyball had already soared in recent years, someone once again uplifts the sport to another level. It has been a minor phenomenon, thanks to Fille Saint Merced Cainglet.

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Just a few weeks ago, Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles fans all gasped in horror as the unthinkable unfolded before their eyes on national television: Fille Cainglet gets injured.

It was a major sprain as she rolled her right ankle during the fourth set of the much anticipated match-up against collegiate rival De La Salle University. Ateneo was trying to rally from a small deficit when Cainglet's fall not only altered the outcome of the game, but also dampened the spirits of the Lady Eagles faithful as their championship run looked to be in peril if she missed an extended period of time.

True enough, when the second round of the UAAP Women's Volleyball eliminations began, Ateneo dropped a tough five-set match to Adamson University and were upset by a resurgent Far Eastern University squad in straight sets. Through those two defeats, Cainglet watched helplessly from the sidelines as her teammates did all they could, but to not avail. Alyssa Valdez, the league's leading scorer just could not carry the team alone and many observers began writing off the Lady Eagles and their bid to dethrone the Lady Spikers of DLSU. It just wasn't going to happen after dropping three straight matches.

But last Sunday, Cainglet made her way back to the lineup a lot sooner than many - including the National University Lady Bulldogs - expected. Although seeing action sparingly to avoid aggravating the injury, she played a vital role in the victory against NU, even scoring the penultimate point. The additional rest before their next encounter against lowly University of the Philippines on February 2 should give the ace open-hitter an opportunity to recuperate even more. Ateneo is now 7-3 for solo second second place with still four games to go.

But what is it about Fille Cainglet that makes her such an icon in volleyball? Why does she have such a rabid following? What makes her so special?

The freshman in action (Photo: pinoyexchange.com)

I covered her early matches in the Shakey's V-League in 2008. She was coming into the program with four other freshmen that fellow broadcaster Mozzy Ravena and I referred to as the “Fab Five” of Ateneo—stealing a term applied to Michigan's 1991 group of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. The Lady Eagles version had celebrated setter Jamenea Ferrer (Hope Christian High School), centers Aillysse Nacachi (Canossa Academy) and Gretchen Ho (Immaculate Conception Academy) and open-hitters Angeline Gervacio and the aforementioned Cainglet, both from St. Scholastica's College-Manila.

To be honest, the first of the five that immediately registered in my memory was Ferrer because I had always felt that Ateneo needed to find a setter that can surpass former captain Karla Bello's abilities. Ferrer instantly showed that she would be a great facilitator and the Lady Eagles would definitely be better with her in the roster.

Also, Ferrer was setting to veteran hitters Kara Acevedo, Bea Pascual and the inimitable Charo Soriano when Cainglet and company made their V-League debuts, so Ferrer's initial successes were remarkable. However, by the Lady Eagles third game or so, I started noticing that there was something exceptional about Cainglet that I even started pertaining to her as an anomaly: “How can someone so lean generate so much power and jump that high?” That was the rhetorical question I recall when she started her slow climb of domination.

Ateneo had already been known as the “crowd darlings” of the V-League, but the entry of the youngsters added a mystique that drew a new legion of viewers; one that would watch the evolution of these newbies and eventually witness how volleyball would forever change in the Philippines.

One of Fille's earliest TV interviews--in grade school (Photo Credit: Fille Cainglet)

Cainglet was the breath of fresh air a new generation of volleyball fans yearned for. Names like Soriano, FEU's Rachel Anne Daquis, DLSU's Manilla Santos and UP's Jed Montero combined attractiveness and unabashed skill and since televised volleyball was on the upswing, many people installed them as the ambassadresses of the sport. But once their collegiate eligibility ran out—or in the case of Montero a career shift to show business—the fans looked for new heroes, and among them emerged Cainglet.

“Fille is French for 'daughter' or 'young girl', Merced was the name of my grandmother and the 'Saint' was inserted to make it sound awesome,” Cainglet explains in a 2011 interview I did on her for UAAP Magazine. That statement alone immediately gave readers an insight into the personality of the then Ateneo captain and how her real-world character showed up on and off the court.

“I started playing volleyball when I was in the fifth grade,” Cainglet recounted in a recent informal chat I had with her. “I eventually got into the St. Scho varsity and played ever since.”

The young Scion, the makings of a future volleyball star (Photo Credit: Fille Cainglet)

Highly regarded as one of the best junior players in the country at the time, Cainglet picked up three MVP trophies for her conquests with the junior Scions in the Women's Volleyball League (WVL) as well as two more in the WNCAA Juniors. She suited up for the National Capital Region (NCR) in the Palarong Pambansa along with Gervacio, Ferrer and La Salle libero Melissa Gohing. They were an inseparable group in their high school days. When Cainglet decided to showcase her skills in the UAAP for Ateneo, she didn't think she would be part of something big. After all, she was just playing the game she loved as a child.

“It was great to still be with Jem (Ferrer) and Dzi (Gervacio) entering college,” Cainglet says. “The transition was a lot easier.”

As a freshman, she was still building a name. That misspelling will never happen today (Photo: pinoyexchange.c …

One of her life goals coming in was to become instrumental in making volleyball bigger.

“Ever since I could remember, I always wanted to help the sport get noticed,” she explains. “I'm really happy that volleyball is getting noticed more and more. I really want to help the sport grow any way I can.”

Well, I believe she's done it.

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Many wondered if there would be a new batch of saviors for the sport after the legacy of Soriano and company. Cainglet leads that charge today.

The original Ateneo "Fab Five" are all in their fifth year (Photo from Fille's Facebook account)

“Fille Cainglet is the best combination of beauty and skills,” one female fan noted. “Everything seems so effortless for her and that's why I always make sure to watch her play.”

“After Fille scores a point, she acts as if nothing happened,” a volleyball statistician observed. “She'll just smile or do her small dance, hug her teammates and continue. Parang, wala lang (like it's just nothing).”

“She's got the girl-next-door looks and she plays like she's always under a spell,” a male fan noted. “Many of us have a crush on her! I know I do."

She has definitely helped elevate the stature of volleyball in the country. Her ambition is also to carry that globally.

“I've always wanted to play volleyball abroad,” she confides. “I got to play in Korea recently (in a beach volleyball tournament), but I wish I was a little taller so I can go on doing this for as long as I can.”

At 5'5”, Cainglet may not be an intimidating sight at first glance, but she was seventh ranked in scoring in the UAAP after the first round and once she comes back to full health, she will continue piling up more points for the Lady Eagles. For now, her height doesn't really matter. She still dominates. But at the end of the day, a crown for Ateneo is her main objective.

The 5th year phenom wants no less than a championship to cap her college career (Photo: Kevin de la Cruz/Rival …

“I really want to win a championship in the UAAP. This is my last year. I want to win it for the school and for all the people who have supported us from the start,” she says.

Fille recently graduated with a degree in Psychology and is dead set on finishing her Masters in Business Administration and intends to join the corporate workforce after she completes her studies, but still can't see herself away from volleyball.

“I'm still young and I still want to do so much,” she adds. “I wish I could play volleyball forever.”

With the rest of the UAAP season still before her and her final conference as a regular for the Lady Eagles in the upcoming tenth season of the V-League still to unfold, Cainglet will still be a fixture in the volleyball scene in the archipelago. Her on-court persona is endearing and her off-court disposition is infectious; oozing with positivity, humor and life.
As Fille Saint Merced Cainglet celebrates her 23rd birthday, my wish for her is that we can still have at least 23 more years of seeing her make a difference in volleyball for the Philippines. I'm quite certain a lot more blessings are to follow for this awe-inspiring volleybelle.

(L-R): UE's Leuseht Dawis, Cainglet and Adamson's Pau Soriano from this 2011 photo shoot (Photo: UAAP Magazine …
Many fans hail her as one of the most iconic female athletes in the country today. You people couldn't have picked a more deserving recipient of your admiration.

SIX THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FILLE CAINGLET:

1. Her nickname is “Che-Che”.

2. Her older sister, Fille Claudine (a.k.a Din-Din) played varsity basketball for UP. Both Cainglets started in basketball, but “Che-Che” migrated to volleyball because her friends played it more.

Meet the sisters (L) Din-Din, (R) Che-Che (Photo from Fille's Facebook account)

3. The sprain she suffered against DLSU a few weeks back was her first major injury—ever. It was also the first time she had ever missed a volleyball game due to an injury.

4. She holds campus at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in Rockwell, Makati—the only member of the team to do so. The team practices at Loyola Heights in the morning then she shuttles to Makati everyday. She then returns to the main campus after her last class at night to stay with the rest of the team at the dorm. Her car is color blue.

5. Her real Twitter account is @FilleisFly and she opened it on August 5, 2009. As of this writing, she has 43,763 followers, which is second most on the Ateneo Lady Eagles team behind Gretchen Ho (@gretchenho) with 55,647 followers.

6. On her birthday, she makes a list of goals corresponding to her age. One of the things she will add to her list of 23 goals this year is to be able to go to New York and watch a Broadway play.

(Photo from Fille's Facebook account)

Happy birthday, Fille! From all of us at Yahoo Sports Philippines!

LA JOLLA, CA - JANUARY 27: Tiger Woods watches his drive on the second hole during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on January 27, 2013 in La Jolla, ... more 
LA JOLLA, CA - JANUARY 27: Tiger Woods watches his drive on the second hole during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on January 27, 2013 in La Jolla, California. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR) less 
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Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @NoelZarate

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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