After its first international tournament in nearly a decade, the members of the jubilant V-League/Philippines team finally came home from the recently concluded Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Southeastern Zonal Women’s Qualification Tournament in Quang Tri, Vietnam which served as an eliminator to the 2013 Volleyball World Championships in Italy where in spite of finishing third in the four-nation meet, many fans and some observers noted that this is indeed a step in the right direction for the country which is attempting to once again take its rightful place in the region’s volleyball community and one day regain its stature as one of the top tier nations in Southeast Asia.
Later after they arrived, Team Manager Tony Boy Liao hosted a dinner for the team and members of the media who helped bring the game to the masses despite the lack of television coverage. It was a more than sumptuous feast held at Fresh in the renowned Solaire Manila where this writer may have overindulged in prawns, roast beef and humorous exchanges with the company present. It was truly a festive atmosphere to salute what was supposed to be a new dawn in women’s volleyball in the archipelago.
However, a cloud of uncertainty cast a shadow on the celebration as it became known that the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has intentions of disbanding the squad and forwarding any future business of a national team issues in this sport to its home federation, the Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF). This was bared Monday morning by a high-ranking official of the PSC, and although there will still be an arduous process of deliberations on this matter; this initial information was viewed by team members as “unfortunate”.
“I really hope we can all be together on this,” expressed team member Alyssa Valdez. “We gained so much from our experiences in Vietnam and I really see the program going a long way if everyone just becomes one.”
“It’s a young team with so much potential,” said the team’s leading scorer Din-Din Santiago, in the vernacular. “In the short time we spent bonding, we learned how can become better. This will only become stronger if the team grows together.”
“When I looked down on my jersey and saw the Philippine flag, it made me more focused on what had to be done,” 17-year-old phenom Jaja Santiago, the tournament’s “Miss Volleyball” awardee explained in Tagalog. “I wasn’t competing for a school or a club anymore. This was for my country. That’s one of the reasons I chose to stay here (instead of accepting an offer to study abroad) because I know I can make a difference here. I pray that this team stays intact.”
But, of course, the decision is not theirs and the coaching staff’s. Head Coach Roger Gorayeb, however, knows that this springboard may go to waste if not sustained.
“It’s actually my first time to be the Head Coach of a national team and actual take that team to foreign soil to compete,” the Ateneo de Manila mentor confided, also in the vernacular. “But more than me being the Head Coach is watching these ladies mature overnight and become formidable. This team has two of the tallest and talented players in the country (the Santiago sisters), the best open-hitter (Valdez), the best libero (Jen Reyes) and the best setter (skipper Rubie de Leon). If we cannot continue this program, everything will go to waste. We started it, let’s continue it.”
Even the two tiniest members of the squad in liberos Reyes and Jheck Dionela were very vocal (as they always are) in their admiration for this collection of volleybelles.
“Jen (Reyes) is the best libero in the country today and I’m proud to support her in the rotation,” explains Dionela in Tagalog, the best libero in the NCAA and the smallest member of the team at 4’11”. “You’ll be hard-pressed to find people coming together and let go of egos and personal ambitions to make a team better. That’s how we are here, even with the coaches (Gorayeb, Edjet Mabbayad and Ariel de la Cruz). The bond should be nurtured.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever be a part of the national team, ever,” Reyes, who picked up the sport late, explains in the vernacular. “But when we finally took to the court against a foreign opponent in another country, I felt as if my life had finally begun. I was proud representing the Philippines. I hope they keep us together.”
Again, the decision will have to be made—but not by these intrepid young ladies who answered the call of duty without prejudice and with full conviction. They even managed to include a victory in their experience points list and—as they all claimed—had it not been for the entry of that controversial, gender-challenged player from Indonesia, they could have easily have gotten two wins.
“That’s the real Kuya,” exclaims veteran Suzanne Roces—lovingly nicknamed Kuya or “older brother” by her teammates.
The ball is on the other service line and all this group of wily warriors can do now is await that serve. How soon? That’s out of this valiant squad's hands.
But they can all look back to being part of something bigger than themselves and for one brief moment, they all became one for the country. I believe they can overcome. I believe they are what the country needs right now: a new inspiration. I believe that this is special group. And should this be the last time I write about these heroines, let’s honor them one final time with a roll call:
#1 Rubie de Leon (Setter/Captain)
#2 Jaja Santiago (Center)
#3 Suzanne Roces (Utility)
#4 Iari Yongco (Utility)
#5 Pau Soriano (Center)
#7 Maika Ortiz (Center)
#8 Alyssa Valdez (Open)
#10 Rhea Dimaculangan (Setter)
#11 Myla Pablo (Open)
#12 Jen Reyes (Libero)
#14 Jheck Dionela (Libero)
#16 Din-Din Santiago (Open)
Head Coach: Roger Gorayeb
Assistant Coaches: Edjet Mabbayad, Ariel de la Cruz
Team Manager: Tony Boy Liao
Formed by: Sports Vision Management Group, Inc.
Thank you for your service to the country, ladies. We will remember.
Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate)