Why Ateneo needs to be #2 in the V-League eliminations (instead of being #1)

So I’m assuming that most of you guys are not yet familiar with the V-League 1st conference format.

Basically it goes like this:
– Top 4 of Bracket A and Bracket B will advance and will form two new Brackets
– 1st and 3rd ranked teams of Bracket A and B will be together in a new bracket
– 2nd and 4th ranked teams of Bracket A and B will be together in a new bracket
– In the quarterfinals, teams who faced each other in the eliminations can’t face anymore and will have a carryover standing instead (example: Ateneo is #1, Arellano is #3. They will still be in the new bracket but they will not face anymore, instead, since Arellano defeated Ateneo, they will have a 1-0 standing even if Ateneo is the #1 seed. Obviously, Ateneo will have a 0-1 standing coming to the quarterfinals with their 5-set loss to Arellano)
– Top 2 of each new bracket will face in the Final Four

So, here’s why Ateneo needs to be #2 in Bracket A: Ateneo lost to Arellano. An Adamson win over Arellano will put them at #1 and Arellano at #3 and Arellano will have that 1-0 in the quarterfinals and Ateneo will have a 0-1. If that happens, Ateneo has to sweep all their remaining games and hope that Arellano will lose one game for them to at least force a playoff game.

Here’s the catch. If Ateneo gets bracketed with the #1 and #3 teams, there’s a big chance that Ateneo will face NU and FEU (assuming there are no upsets anymore in the other bracket). This might come at a disadvantage considering Ateneo has to win both games to move closer to the Final Four (But who am I kidding, Ateneo is kind of used to do or die games).

However, if Ateneo gets bracketed with the #2 and #4 teams, they will have a 1-0 standing (assuming they beat Benilde, which I think is most likely to be the one who will enter the Quarterfinals) and will face UST and San Sebastian (or even Davao if they surprise us all). And here’s another catch, assuming NU beats Arellano in the other bracket, Ateneo might even face Arellano for a revenge match in the Final Four, if they win over UST and the #4 seed of the other group (Davao/SanSebastian/Perpetual).

Of course, these are still pending upsets. So let’s see. The season is still long.

But here’s what Ateneo fans should wish for:

ARELLANO SHOULD BEAT ADAMSON for the #2 spot instead of the #1 spot.
At #1, we will be 0-1 in the quarterfinals. At #2, we will be 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

ARELLANO SHOULD BEAT ADAMSON. Lesser problems. Better chance.

Dream Fulfilled: Thoughts on Ateneo Lady Eagles’ championship

I don’t know where to begin. Everything seems like a dream. It took some time for me to realize that we are indeed the UAAP champions. I’ve waited so long for this and it came at the probably the most unexpected situation; the reason why the championship is I guess the sweetest in history and also the most talked about.

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How they rose

Being a fan of the team for 10 years is really something I’m proud of. I saw how this team rose from the ashes from their cellar-dwellar years and of course, their first championship ever. It was not easy being an Ateneo fan back then. When watching games, you’d only see like 10 other fans wearing blue or cheering for Ateneo. Others were either parents or family members of the Ateneo team. Well back then, Ateneo doesn’t really invest much on recruiting and they would just get players from either tryouts or those who would pass the ACET. So yeah, it was really hard to build a very competitive program back then. But when Tony Boy Liao came in, everything changed.

You see, volleyball is not a very famous sport for a male-dominated school like Ateneo. There are what we call stereotypes and other masculine what-nots whenever volleyball is being talked about. But, I’m amazed how the love for the sport grew for the Ateneo community. If back then, there would be like only 10 of us watching, this time, the whole university and the alumni are getting more involved. Back when I was in high school, I’m the only volleyball fan in our class in our second year but come third year, volleyball attracted my whole class (but also because beautiful girls Denise Tan and Rachel Anne Daquis were the stars of UAAP back then). It was in my senior year in high school (2007-08) when the sport picked up a lot of fans not only in my school but also in the country. It was so easy to watch UAAP volleyball back then because the games are in Blue Eagle Gym. We just have to ride one tricycle after school and we would be at the venue, not knowing we were watching would-be legendary players like Charo Soriano, Patti Taganas, Kara Acevedo, Ange Tabaquero, Ging Balse, Venus Bernal, Wendy Semana, Rachel Daquis, Maica Morada and many other more names. Who knew. That season, Ateneo made the Final Four the first time. And that season saw Ateneo beat La Salle the first time in history. It felt awesome but at the same time, it was somewhat expected knowing La Salle was rebuilding and is coming from a suspension. Only a few people were watching the game that time but Charo Soriano was the “Alyssa Valdez” that time. She would do everything for Ateneo but I consider her job much harder cause she is leading an Ateneo team that time which did not have much high school standouts and a team full of inexperienced players.

When they entered the Final Four, I told myself that this might just be the start of the rise. And yep, it was. The Fab Five entered the program. I knew they were something. I knew they would spark something for Ateneo. In Season 71, we weren’t really expecting anything but we were very happy with how they performed on the court. Gretchen Ho, Jem Ferrer, Fille Cainglet and Dzi Gervacio showed a lot of promise that time. They would force all teams to 5 sets, they would not win, but you’d just love how they fought for every point back then even it was the opponent’s home court (yes, FEU had games in their home turf back then). The next year opened a lot of doors for them. They beat a very tough UST team who eventually won the championship that year UST had the likes of Maizo, Dimaculangan, Tabaquero, Santiago, Ortiz and Banaticla that time. It was an amazing game and it went to 5 sets. Dzi Gervacio had 26 points that time and that kind of gave the Ateneo team some confidence for the season. They finished 3rd place but it wasn’t a sad one. It was the first Final Four for the Fab Five and they level up their play that time. The last two years before this year have been impressive too, but La Salle is just really too good. It was very sad to see Cainglet, Ho, Ferrer, Nacachi and Gervacio graduate but it served as a lesson for the volleyball program. I also loved how they sparked some attention for Philippine volleyball. It’s probably something that led to this year’s championship.

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No expectations

Yup. Aside from heart strong, “no expectations” was the most overused line of the season for Ateneo players and the fans. After losing the Fab Five to graduation and with a new coach and with injured players, you’d think Ateneo won’t fight or won’t have a very good season. It seemed like that in the opening game. But Ateneo won more games which led most fans to believe that there is still a chance. A chance to challenge higher ranked teams and to be able to somewhat impress more fans in the season. I don’t know if you guys remember but right after Ateneo won against I think FEU or Adamson in the first round, I tweeted something like, “Mukhang sila (Ateneo & La Salle) pa rin ang magkikita sa Finals.” I just saw something different from them in that game that’s why I was so impressed and I said that. I never thought it would happen.

Funny thing though is that when you watch Ateneo’s losses in the eliminations, one could easily say, “kaya pero kulang.” In that 2nd round game against NU, they were leading almost every set but NU would have this scoring spree whenever Dindin Santiago is at the back serving. But back then, you can tell that they can beat NU. Luckily, in that third set, they won but the misfortunes kept coming for Ateneo as Denden Lazaro got injured in the 4th set. Now what’s the significance of this game? I told my fellow diehards, I think this might be the start of their run for a title. And it was. After the game against NU, they won 8 straight games or 10/11 games.

And then the painful back to back lopsided losses to La Salle. Haters kept on bashing Ateneo because of the scores and how they were all playing in those games. True enough, they were different players in both games. I remember Jia Morado telling me that she was very overwhelmed with the big crowd, with La Salle and with the championship-like atmosphere of the game. As a rookie, I expected her to say that. There was this Ana Gopico injury. Just when Ateneo found a strong middle, and then poof, she got injured in the middle of the season. Some said it was over. Some even counted Ateneo out of the Final Four.

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The Cast

When Gopico was injured against UST, I was nervous. It’s hard losing your best middle blocker. This is where you should really appreciate Kiwi Ahomiro. The girl trained as an opposite all year but when Ana got injured, she played a different position, and for me, even did better in that position. It’s all about stepping up and Kiwi Ahomiro did just this. Maybe even more. If there was a Best Blocker or maybe even best middle in the Finals (no disrespect to Aby Marano and Mika Reyes), she could have won it with her high percentage in spiking and massive blocking. She averaged 5 blocks a game in the Finals. Impressive stats. And what’s even more delightful is the fact that she has two more playing years. The future is bright with this girl in the team.

Likewise, Michelle Morente has been a total surprise for Ateneo, especially in the 2nd round. She got her groove in that game against UST and from then on, she would be one of the most consistent players in the team. But aside from her skills, I think her spunk in the game is really a joy to watch. She’s energetic and she has this demeanor on the court where she means business but fun at the same time. I also like her “babawi ako” attitude. You can see it whenever she would get blocked or would have an error.

Julia Morado is just phenomenal. She’s the future of Philippine volleyball. Her setting is very good. I don’t know if you guys watch international volleyball but Julia Morado really plays a lot like Nootsara Tomkom, a 4-time world best setter. She does the low-fast play well and is very unpredictable. If she will develop her blocking and serving more, she would be a more awesome setter not only for Ateneo but for the Philippines. I also love the fact that she controls everything for Ateneo. She controls the pace and also the emotions of the girls by being their semi-leader. It’s not everyday you have a super rookie who acts like a team captain right away.

Denden Lazaro has been the lifeblood of Ateneo this year. Without her, I don’t know where Ateneo will be. She might not be the captain but her leadership is very evident in the Ateneo team. If you would see, she’d join Alyssa in pushing her teammates especially if the opponent is on a run. Remember Finals Game 2? Her injury somewhat demoralized the Ateneo team. They seemed lost and seemed like they don’t know what to do without Denden Lazaro. There is no denying that Denden Lazaro is slowly emerging as one of the country’s best liberos out there. Like what my Tito Noel Zarate said, this season saw her play better even against the likes of Lizlee Ann Gata and Jen Reyes.

Alyssa Valdez is already a great player. She has deadly spikes and mean serves but this season showcased her leadership skills and saw her improve in a lot of aspects. Her blocking, digging and receiving improved big time this year. I remember in one of the tweets back then that Alyssa Valdez was really training very hard to improve her floor defense. And she did. Watch the Finals series and see how her digs were very crucial, especially in Game 4 where the spikes of Galang and Marano seemed like nothing to her. Needless to say, she was Ateneo’s 2nd libero this season. Just when we thought she is already a great player, she keeps on improving in different things. Not to pressure her but I’m very excited how she will grow more as a player in her next two years in the UAAP. Likewise, when the Fab Five turned the team captain chores to her, I knew she would handle it well. Even back then, she showed signs of leadership and she deserves the MVP and Finals MVP a lot because of this.

Coach Tai. Where to begin. He came to Ateneo just as a consultant. His job was just really to train the Ateneo girls. I was even surprised before when he was listed as the coach. But more than his impressive credentials with the Thailand volleyball program, we saw more of his psychological approach to the game. It’s already given that he trains well but what’s more impressive is how he pushes the girls and how he keeps telling them to play with heart, to play happy and to play unity. Call it cheesy or what but it’s really these three things which made them win the title. They are faced with impossible situations but Coach Tai is always there to remind them to play with heart and to be happy in playing. I think there was never even a tad bit of pressure you would hear in his timeouts for Ateneo. His Japan rotation was also the lucky charm for Ateneo. I think this rotation is magical. When he changed to this rotation, they had a winning streak and even won the championship. Here’s to hoping that the rotation’s magic would still work in V-League and in the coming years. Haha.

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Euphoria

People are already talking about what might happen next season for Ateneo especially since Ateneo won’t really lose a key player to graduation. Coach Tai also said he’ll be back come come June. I won’t blame them. The girls are now the defending champions despite having a young line-up. I mean come on. It would be silly not to expect from some team who just won a championship with that kind of line-up. But of course, it’s also good to manage expectations. After all, we never expected any of this.

Even before the season started, I told myself, Season 77 is Ateneo’s year. I would have wanted them to at least get a lot of experience this year before their “title run” for next year. But damn, they overachieved like 100 times in a lot of ways already. Until now, I still can’t believe Ateneo won the championship. It’s just so surreal. I mean, yeah, I’ve been watching videos and all but there’s still this question, “Champion ba talaga?”. But like what others have been saying, the reason why this championship is so sweet is because of what they have to go through to win this thing. They won all of their do or die games. They defeated their elimination tormentors twice (NU) and thrice (La Salle). They really defied the odds. Even if you’re a diehard, the first thing that comes to mind is the word, IMPOSSIBLE. But they did the impossible, and that’s why this championship is oh-so-sweet! Reminds me so much of the Season 65 of the Blue Eagles (basketball).

I have this intense circle of friends. We have a private group on Facebook and ever since the first round we have been really talking about La Salle sweeping the eliminations…..but the thought of Ateneo winning the championship did not come until they had this mini-winning streak. I remember, I told my friend Amae that the championship would go to 4 games and Ateneo will win it in three sets. In fact, I even told Amae that after the game, the girls will go to the bonfire to celebrate their championship. I told this when Ateneo won Game 1 of the Final Four against NU. Want proof? I can printscreen our conversation. Haha. But I never thought that would come true. I mean, I was just kidding actually or maybe I said those things out of big trust and confidence with the team. I never really thought it would come true. So I was in awe how things went the way I said it.

Right after their last point, I was crying. 10 years of waiting is over. I was just so happy that time. It took some time for it to sink in. No one expected them to win it all and they had to go through a lot (twice to beat by NU, thrice to beat by La Salle) to win the championship.

It was a blessing by God and we can be thankful for a long time.

Years from now, people would be talking about this cinderella story. They would eventually share it to their kids and to their grandkids.

It’s really one of the sports stories ever.

It’s one for the ages.

I’m glad to have experienced it.

Thank you for those who believed!

Thank you Lady Eagles!

Thank you Coach Tai!

and most of all,

Thank you Lord!

Dream fulfilled

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A Farewell Letter to the Philippine Volleyball Community

This weekend meant the end of my stay in the Philippines. Medyo matagal na itong planned actually. I think 2012 pa lang, I’ve been telling my friends of my plans to migrate abroad. Natuloy na rin sa wakas. It has always been my dream to work abroad but I also have family duties here in the Philippines kaya di ko rin maiwanan lahat.

Of course, I’d like to say thanks to everyone who helped me in Philippine Volleyball.

First, I’d like to say thanks to Mr. Ricky Palou, Mr. Sherwin Malonzo and Mr. Arthur Lim. You guys have taught me a lot. Thanks for giving me a lot of opportunities too. You guys know what I mean. Thank you talaga. Please do continue in promoting volleyball. It’s a good sport with an overwhelming and warm community. You guys are making this sport so big. Again, thank you.

Sa aking short writing career, sobrang nagtathank you ako kay Sir Josiah Albelda for giving me opportunities to write both in Matchpoint and Rappler. Super thanks. Dami ko natutunan and malaki utang na loob ko sa iyo. Bond na lang ulit tayo when I get back from the States. Haha.

I’d like to also thank Mr. Tats Suzara, Ms. Anna Tomas, Mr. Ginio Panganiban, Ms. Kyle Principe and everyone who have been friends and gave me the opportunity to participate in Philippine volleyball activities like the forming of the Bomberinas, the Superliga and everything. Sobrang salamat po talaga sa inyo. Sana po wag kayong magsawang sumuporta sa Philippine volleyball.

I’ve developed a lot of friends in this sport. There were some clashes too but you guys were all memorable. Thanks for the bonding, the entertaining dinners, the side by side cheering and at times, jeering and the memories you have shared with me. Dahil sa dami niyo, I won’t mention you guys ng isa-isa. Alam niyo na kung sino kayo. Both past and present. Thanks for always being there sa side ko.

Thanks din sa mga kahit hindi ko pa namemeet kasi asa province sila, asa ibang bansa sila or nahihiya sila magpakilala, na you guys trusted me and natiis niyo yung pagiging passionate ko and pagiging super outspoken ko. Salamat sa lahat.

For my dear Ateneo Lady Eagles and Blue Spikers, championships come to those who wait. You might not have won the UAAP yet, but you will someday. I will always support and believe in you guys. I always include you guys in your prayers. For both the past and present Lady Eagles and Blue Spikers, thank you so much for the memorable chats, beautiful conversations and the inspiring messages you have shared with me. I won’t mention you guys na, alam niyo na kung sino kayo. Thank you also for being so kind to me despite minsan sa pangungulit and sa pagiging overly passionate. You guys will always have a place in my heart. Sobra. I’ve never been a picture person but rest assured those memories are even better than pictures. Kunin niyo na yan this year. Baka umuwi ako. Haha. Let’s see.

I may have a favorite team in both divisions but I always had my own share of favorite players from other teams too. These include Carmela Tunay, Cha Cruz, Jessey de Leon, Maica Morada, Rose Vargas, Illa Santos, Jovy Gonzaga, Ara Galang, UP girls (almost everyone of them) and so much more pa. Of course, the girls I really loved the most, the Santiago sisters. Sobrang bait niyo sa akin and I can’t thank you enough. Sa lahat po sa inyo, thank you for being inspirations to my life. I will always treasure you guys. Hope you can continue setting examples to the rest of Philippine volleyball. Magsilbi sana kayong halimbawa hindi lang sa paglalaro kung hindi sa inyong mga pagkatao na rin.

Some people call me a leader. But no I am not. I’ve always been a follower. Kaya sa mga iba dyan na nagaask kung may papalit ba sa akin as leader ng ibang Facebook groups ganyan. Thanks kung leader nga ang tingin niyo sa akin. But yes, marami diyan who can lead you guys and can set a better example. UAAP Season na so let’s see kung sino mag iinitiate ng mga leadership roles diyan. Hindi ako indespensable. May pagkukulang din ako. Let the new ones take over and I’m sure makakahanap din kayo. Good Luck guys.

Sa mga fans of different teams and players, continue supporting your favorite players and teams. Lumaki ang volleyball with your support. Kayo ang reason why the sport became so big like this. Ipagpatuloy niyo lang yan. But know your limits and boundaries too. Just spread the love and just be passionate about what you are doing. Kung ayaw man ng parents, laging ikatwiran na, at least hindi ka nagsisigarilyo or nagdudrugs. Joke lang po. But seriously, continue making volleyball big. The sport needs you!

It’s sad that I won’t be able to see Philippine volleyball progress. Sayang kasi the sport is growing pa naman. But when I get back, I hope most of the games will be in MOA Arena, Araneta or any other future big stadiums. Of course, even without me in the country, I’d be supporting Philippine Volleyball pa rin of course.

Thank you Philippine Volleyball community

See you again soon!

God Bless you guys!

Pagpray ko kayo lahat! 🙂

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 🙂