Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

UAAP Women’s Volley Finals Game Two: Has Ateneo found its mojo?

UAAP Women’s Volley Finals Game Two: Has Ateneo found its mojo?
by rick olivares

The Ateneo Lady Eagles finally showed up in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals winning Game Two in four sets (26-24, 14-25, 25-21, 25-15) to set up the winner-take-all game this Saturday.

However, it didn’t happen right away.

The malady that has inflicted this Ateneo team – playing great one set then disappearing the next – almost all season long nearly did them in. We’ve always pointed out their inconsistencies despite their 12-2 elimination round record that really doesn’t mean much at this stage. Surprisingly for a veteran team like theirs too. I can expect that from NU, Adamson, and UE, but not them. 

One can point out to Eya Laure’s injury as that moment when the pendulum swung this Game Two. Yes, but not entirely. I thought the Lady Eagles looked better than their second set selves and that Dani Ravena’s entry also galvanized them. 

What makes UST dangerous is their consistency in scoring from all positions in the front court. Cherry Ann Rondina and Laure in the wings and KC Galdones and Ysa Jimenez or even Alina Bicar and Caitlyn Viray in the middle. Ateneo… well, you know Kat Tolentino and Maddie Madayag will provide that sock. With Ponggay Gaston and Bea De Leon, you’re not too sure. When Bea is on…. It feeds off on the rest of the team because she is such an emotional player. 

Watching UST all season long, I don’t recall head coach Kung-Fu Reyes getting mad on occasion like he would in previous years. He was more chill this year. Even when his team lost some games in the elimination round, they were chill. 

I don’t think they played under the radar at all. They did after Milena Alessandrini went down. But after that they were blazing again. I don’t think I saw a look of desperation on their faces probably until Game Two when they woke the sleeping giant.

Whether a combination of having a nuclear weapon in Rondina, and a shock trooper in Laure, the rookies played with no fear. Para silang nakasandal sa pader as that old commercial (Traders Royal bank in case this generation doesn’t know) said.

That is key…. The performances of Galdones, Jimenez, Mafe Galanza, and Laure. With that no fear mindset, they took it to Ateneo in Game One; hence, the win. 

Sure, Ateneo’s Achilles’ heel since Denden Lazaro’s graduation has been their floor defense. Gizelle Tan gave a good account of herself later on. And Ravena, on occasion (I think she will be fine next season). 

When was the last time we saw an injury during the finals? That was Season 77 when La Salle lost two players in the finals. Unlike this Ateneo-UST series, that finals was pretty much Ateneo’s. This time… well, it also hinges on Laure’s health.

I mentioned in an article the previous week that during a conversation with Eddie Laure, Eya’s father, he thought that the long minutes has told on his daughter. Not that he is blaming anyone. Her other teammates play just as long minutes. It was more of the nicks and niggling injuries that eventually told on Eya.

Has Ateneo recovered its mojo? 

I can’ tell. 

I did say that this is all about grit. Who will grit their teeth and bear the pain and the pressure? 

When asked about Game Two, I said that the first set was key for Ateneo. If they get it, meron silang baon. If not, they’ll be in a hole that I don’t think they can recover. 

Game Three will come down to which team’s stars will step up, how they battle those nerves, and who has fewer errors. 

Unlike previous seasons where you know that it is La Salle’s to win and La Salle’s to lose, this one is unpredictable. A team that is trying to regain its footing against a team on the rise.

And that is why this is why this is such an interesting series.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Players to watch out for this Filoil Preseason Cup

Players to watch out for this Filoil Preseason Cup
by rick olivares

The Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup is only in its second week and yet some players are making a case for themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming NCAA and UAAP seasons.

These are more reasons to watch the games at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

Alec Stockton and Cade Flores (FEU)
Stockton, the New York City-kid began to get more minutes last season under Tamaraws head coach Olsen Racela. This summer, he has been promoted to the starting unit and he is making an impact on both ends of the floor.

Against National University, Stockton tallied 15 points, four rebounds, and one steal in 21 minutes. What the stat line does not show are how he played great defense against John Lloyd Clemente, Dave Ildefonso, and Chino Mosqueda. 

Flores, the Fil-Australian recruit will be a fixture at the four spot for FEU. Dependable mid-range jumper and free throw shooter. Rebounds and positions himself well. Not afraid to attack that lane.

Robert Minerva (NU)
Currently averaging 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, this kid who came up from the Bullpups is going to be a key player for NU for the next several years. He is their second chance opportunity player as he is adept at grabbing boards. He is willing to mix it up and can put the ball down the floor which is a huge plus.

Ralph Cu and Joaqui Manuel (DLSU)
When the Green Archers opened their summer account against UST, Manuel drove down the lane and missed a dunk against Growling Tigers center Chabi Yo.

Ambitious? Not really. Manuel has been throwing it down in practice games. He will eventually get someone and that is going to be something.

It is however, an indication that he is going to be an impact player in the vein of Kib Montalbo as he is smart and plays both ends of the floor. And he isn’t going to back down against anyone.

As for Ralph Cu, watch out because DLSU has another gunner. After three matches, he is 8-18 from three-point range and is averaging 8.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists.

Dave Ando (UST)
Aldin Ayo has employed a twin towers combo with Soulemane Chabi Yo and Dave Ando. We know what we are getting with Chabi Yo who showed his wares in NAASCU. As for Ando who is in his second year, he is averaging 9.0 points and 9.5 rebounds. That is two rim protectors that Ayo has right now.

Kurt Reyson (Letran)
The second coming of JP Calvo? This homegrown player has become an integral part of the rotation of head coach Bonnie Tan. Even as a rookie, he is already displaying his leadership skills and willingness to take big shots. His stats will not show it yet, but this kid is a keeper.

Joem Sabandal (Adamson) 
This rookie who came up from the Baby Falcons has become a part of the rotation and is averaging 7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in three matches. I’d say along with Jerom Lastimosa and Jed Colonia, this gives Franz Pumaren a good corps of playmaking guards who will only get better as they soak in more experience. But expect Sabandal to become a prime-time player for this team. He is exactly the creative player they need (as Lastimosa is more of a scoring guard) to get others involved. 

Honorable mention: Louise Delos Santos (JRU). He’s only played one game thus far but talk about an impact for JRU.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Prince Carlos to defend Hanes One-On-One King of the Hardcourt

Prince Carlos to defend Hanes One-On-One King of the Hardcourt
by rick olivares

College of St. Benilde’s youthful Prince Carlos will return to defend the Hanes One-On-One King of the Hardcourt when it tips off in the second week of play in the ongoing Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup.

Carlos defeated Letran’s Mark Taladua, 15-14, in the finals of the inaugural one-on-one tournament last season.

This season, players looking to knock Carlos (whose alternate is rookie Sidney Mosqueda) off his throne include Arellano University’s Justin Arana and Alfren Gayosa, CEU’s John Earl Lisbo, Letran’s King Policarpio, La Salle’s Francis Escandor and Jan Carl Luciano, FEU’s Cade Flores and Mike Casino, JRU’s Jarvy Ramos, Lyceum’s Rancy Remulla who competed in last year’s competition and Casper Pericas, Mapua’s Denniel Aguirre and Arvin Gamboa, NU’s John Galinato and Robert Minerva, San Beda’s Sean Lenard Garcia and Miguel Ratuiste, San Sebastian’s Rommel Calahat and Mario Emmanuel Bonleon, UP’s Joe Gomez De Liaño and CJ Catapusan, and UST’s Zach Huang and Sherwin Concepcion.

“Competing in last year’s Hanes One-On-One King of the Hardcourt really improved my game,” bared Carlos. “In high school at De La Salle Zobel, I was known more as a shooter. But in one-on-one, you cannot shoot all the time. You also have to attack that basket and rebound or else you will not get chances. That helped boost my confidence come the NCAA. So, I am looking forward to defend the title.”

Back in the 1980s, the one-on-one competition was introduced in collegiate play by the UAAP with UST’s Bennett Palad winning the inaugural tilt in the seniors division and Ateneo’s JV Gayoso taking home the trophy in the juniors bracket.

Palad, who works as tournament director for the Hanes competition in the ongoing Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup agreed with Carlos’ observations. “It is a good experience because it is just two players with a lot of people watching. The approach and attitude towards the one-on-one game helps you in your approach in the five-on-five game. It adds to your confidence.”

Carlos declined to say if he has any new tricks up his sleeve. “We’ll just see what we can do,” he said. “Last year, winning the Hanes competition gave me more confidence shooting the triple. This year, all I can say is I will do our best.”

The winner of the Hanes One-On-One King of the Hardcourt will receive a cash prize of P20,000.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Meet the newest basketball brothers: Bradwyn and Jerwyn Guinto

Meet the newest basketball brothers: Bradwyn and Jerwyn Guinto
by rick olivares

Among the crowd watching the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates take on the College of Saint Benilde Blazers was Bradwyn Guinto who is now plying his basketball trade with the NorthPort Batang Pier in the PBA.

The six-foot-six Guinto was just as serene as the Monday afternoon; a countenance that belief the tough, close match between LPU and CSB on the second day of the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup.

The interest for Guinto who played for the San Sebastian Stags in the NCAA was the Pirates’ back-up center, Jerwyn; his younger brother.

“I try to watch all his games to support him,” said the elder Guinto. “The game hasn’t even started and my parents, (Alwin and Wilma who are both in Melbourne, Australia) are texting and asking for updates.”

Incidentally, Jerwyn was also in the Stags’ pipeline until he like many other former Stags, made the exodus to the LPU campus in Intramuros. Other former SSCR players include Jayson David, Rhanzelle Yong, Enzo Navarro, and Spencer Pretta. The Pirates’ head coach, Topex Robinson, was a former star player for the Stags and coached them for a couple of seasons. 

Like the “family atmosphere” that has been formed in LPU, basketball is the same for the Guintos. 

Bradwyn was born in the Philippines, but his family moved to Australia when he was only eight months old. Jerwyn, six years his junior, was born there.

Tennis was Bradwyn’s first sport although he did play some rugby and cricket. “You have to go through it,” chuckled the older sibling. “It’s the national sport there although basketball is popular. Gravitating towards basketball and then playing back in the Philippines seemed like a natural thing to do.”

Does the rugby explain the fact that both brothers like to mix it up in the middle with no fear of the roughness of the alligator wrestling pond? “Yes,” laughed Bradwyn.

While both brothers play inside, Bradwyn always had his hair cut short. Jerwyn, looks like a free-spirited version with his hair worn long and tied during games. Like a Fil-Aussie version of New Zealand’s Steven Adams. 

Bradwyn laughs at the comparison.

This was 6’5” Jerwyn’s second stint in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup although he wasn’t lined up for the previous NCAA season. Against CSB, in 11 minutes of action backing up Mike Nzeusseu, Jerwyn tallied four points and five rebounds versus one turnover.

“Not bad,” observed the kuya. “He was battling out there against the bigger players of Benilde (the Twin Tower of Jeremiah Pangalangan and Ladis Lepalam who both stand 6’8”).”

“It feels great to be finally part of the line-up this upcoming season” put in Jerwyn. “I feel like I have worked my butt off to earn a spot and will continue to work hard every day. And having my older brother here to support me means a lot.”

“We added a bit more ceiling to our team this year with the addition of Jerwyn and Alvin Baetiong,” pointed out LPU head coach Topex Robinson. “We need them to spell Mike or even to allow him to play the three.”

After the match, that LPU won – after finally dispatching a pesky CSB team early in the fourth period – by the score of 70-57, the two brothers shared a quick chat outside the Pirates’ locker room. “Me? I’m just rooting for my brother to do well. I know as he gets more experience, he will add a lot to the team.”

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Joshua Lazaro's move from San Beda to Ateneo.

Josh’s move.

by rick olivares


With that Instagram post, Joshua Lazaro, signified his intention to move from San Beda in Antipolo to Ateneo de Manila High School. 

For much of the past school year, Lazaro has been recruited and pitched to by different schools, to move for his senior high school. 

He resisted any pondering of a move until the season was over. He wanted to give the Red Cubs’ NCAA campaign his undivided attention. And even when the season was done, he insisted on finishing his studies and graduating from junior high before anything else. 

His family readily gave him the space so as not to influence or pressure his decision. Then came the Instagram post that showed Lazaro inside the Ateneo campus with only one word: “changes.”

The move from the familiar to the unfamiliar is always frightening. 

After 10 years in San Beda (he moved then for fourth grade), he is going to the only other school that he considered moving to if he decided to leave Antipolo. It was a difficult decision. Joshua thought of his teachers, classmates, coaches, and teammates who have meant so much to him. There was much thinking as well as tears. But at the end, he went with what he believes is the best move for him at this stage of his young life. 

What does a 16-year old know? Life is still pretty much a mystery that will unspool its answers when you least expect it. The decision was his entirely and yet, his family made him listen to everyone who invited Joshua to move to their school (there were several UAAP and NCAA schools that pitched to him). 

Yet, Lazaro, through the guidance of his family, has made it acutely aware that it will be filled with challenges.

There have only been two previous major adjustments that Joshua has made – the first was enrolling in San Beda for Grade 4, and when he joined the basketball team.

And the reason for playing basketball wasn’t even a sports thing – it was to socialize and to find a way to communicate with others. Lazaro is the quiet, shy, and introspective sort. With his being involved in a team game, he found himself and the confidence to be a part of a whole. 

Through the game, he found a resolve. He hardly has any plays called for himself. He usually cleans up the glass, puts back the ball, or finds an open teammate for a pass and a bucket. His unselfish play has been vital and not gone unnoticed. In fact, he’s been a part of the last three Batang Gilas squads.

There are other challenges in the move to Ateneo.

The academic standards are very rigorous and demanding. That is a given and while Joshua has been a good student in San Beda, you couple that with the pressure cooker that is the UAAP and joining a Blue Eagles team that is pretty much gutted from its title team of two seasons ago. The premature departure of center Kai Sotto, who still has a few years left, to pursue his American and European adventure that he hopes will one day land him a spot on an NBA roster, is more telling because now, Lazaro is the tallest player on the squad. Now, six-foot-four Joshua isn’t a center as he is a four-spot player. 

It stands to reason he will play out of position if there is no one to plug that doughnut hole in the middle that has been vacated by Sotto and Geo Chiu.

Speaking of the two, last season, there were three Batang Gilas players on the Ateneo roster – point guard Forthsky Padrigao as well as Sotto and Chiu. Only Padrigao is left. Bantam-sized point guard Ian Espinosa is still around. Other than those two there are no other players with significant contributions to the Blue Eagles’ finals stint. 

There are no illusions that Ateneo will compete for the UAAP Juniors crown let alone make the Final Four (one can hope though). You can be sure the adversity quotient will rise significantly. 

And yet the Lazaros understand that. If moving to San Beda was to help him socialize and as a bonus, learn and find himself in the game of basketball; moving to Ateneo is to prepare for college and beyond. They have told Joshua that he will learn more fending for himself in Ateneo. And we aren’t just talking about hoops.

For the first time in his life, he will stay in the Ateneo dorm of Cervini. Previously, he always went home after basketball practice and school. This time because of practicality, he will have to stay and that in itself is an adjustment. 

So, the adjustment isn’t only for Josh but the entire family. “We’re all in this together,” they collectively enthuse. It is heartwarming to see a family throw their full support in their son’s pursuit of a dream.

And that is for the best because change is always challenging. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

La Salle looks good heading into the semis, the F4 cast is complete and UP’s meltdown

La Salle looks good heading into the semis, the F4 cast is complete and UP’s meltdown
by rick olivares

There are three big storylines from the weekend volleyball matches.

The first is, La Salle has seen its silver lining and that the path to a fourth straight UAAP women’s crown is a little clearer and within sight. Two, the Final Four cast has been decided. And three, UP now understands NU’s plight during the Santiago sisters’ years in blue and gold.

Let’s tackle the first.

So much for not seeing Ateneo at their best.
That was what Oliver Almadro said after their season opening defeat to La Salle. The Lady Eagles rattled off 10 straight wins before falling to their nemesis in an embarrassing three sets (25-17, 25-13, 25-23).

Someone online wondered, “why embarrassing?” Well, the simple truth is you are building up to this game; a validation of your 10-game winning streak and you are swept in three sets. No one scores in double digits and there are ZERO block points.”

It is one thing to lose in five sets and altogether another in three. 

You could see the Lady Spikers’ swag and psych-out tactics working. But why be surprised? You know this is coming and it is part of their game plan.

When the Lady Eagles lost in that first set, after Mae Luna began hitting all those shots, it gave La Salle a confidence booster – we can take these guys. And they did. One key to beating them is taking that first step and plant some doubt. Nothing happened.

The question now is to bounce back and be ready for the Final Four.

La Salle also should thank Ateneo for dispatching UP. The Fighting Lady Maroons are the only team to beat them – twice this season. But losses to Ateneo really put UP on a tailspin and out of the Final Four chase.

Having said that, it brings us to the second point.

The Final Four cast is decided.
Ateneo, La Salle, UST, and FEU are advancing to the next round. It is a matter of placing now. Who plays who. 

UST must be happy because they won their way in and without help from other teams. Even during their tough stretch of the season, they hung tough and for the most part, played with a joy. 

FEU is talented, but they are like UP – with confidence issues. Only Heather Guino-O scored in double figures with everyone else not playing well. Even UST rookie Mafe Galanza outshone FEU’s Kyla Negrito who started every set but saw her being subbed out by Gel Cayuna who had more excellent sets than her teammate. 

They want to sharpen their teeth for the playoffs? They have to bring it against La Salle in their final engagement of the elimination round.

A painful end to a promising season for UP.
It is ironic that NU, the team that in most recent years had all sorts of pre-season success but faltered come the UAAP, was the one to dispatch UP.

This five-set loss (21-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-23, 15-17) to the much younger Lady Bulldogs is painful and takes some of the shine away from their pre-season trophies. 

Without a doubt, this UP team can compete and even win it all. I thought that this year was their best chance to win it all, but it isn’t happening. 

Having really followed this team through the past few years, I thought that at times, their swag was misplaced. Prior to the first round loss to Ateneo, they were pointing to spots on the floor where their shots fell or even gave stare downs. I think it is nice, but they do not have it down to a science unlike La Salle. I remember thinking, “Hmm, this is too early and misplaced.” Then Ateneo took them out in embarrassing fashion and they were never the same again. Tots Carlos didn’t look like the frightening power spike she was. In fact, in other games, she would be taken out and she stopped putting up big points. Their twin blockers in Marist Layug and Jessma Ramos were silent. 

I really thought that Ramos was one key factor in their late Season 80 run as well as in certain spots in the pre-season. Yes, Layug played well, but I always thought that Ramos could be a bigger force. Aeisha Gannaban stopped being a major contributor. And of course, there is the injury to Isa Molde (that is not and should never be an excuse because UST lost Minela Alessandrini for the entire season and possibly even longer given her being injury prone but they still played better).

More to the NU analogy. Remember that year when Dindin Santiago, Myla Pablo, and company broke into the seniors division? There was excessive swag in them as they danced, celebrated like there was no tomorrow, and talked smack to opponents. Then they fell in the Final Four to a team they beat twice in the elims and were never the same again.

While they have one more game to play before their Season 81 if officially over, the entire team from the braintrust to the players head into the off-season with questions and a need for answers. If you ask me, this is where they have to rebuild mentally and psychologically. And it won’t be easy, but they need to if they want to make the final playing years of Carlos and Molde really mean something.

Cortinazo’s game winner lifts UE to BBI U25 win over DLSU

Cortinazo’s game winner lifts UE to BBI U25 win over DLSU
by rick olivares

Cristine Cortizano hit a jumpshot with six seconds left to lift the University of the East Lady Red Warriors to a pulsating 44-43 win over De La Salle University in the BBI Women’s U25 tournament at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center. 

UE led by as much as nine points, 20-11, in the early stages of the game. The Lady Green Archers slowly whittled away at the lead until they caught up in the third period and took the lead after a jump shot by Chini Espinas at the 3:05 mark, 27-25.

La Salle twice led by four points, the last at 31-27 after a bucket by Marga Jimenez with 44 seconds left in the third period.

Both teams battled through one more deadlock and three more lead changes until the Lady Red Warriors’ Princess Pedregosa notched the count one last time at 40-all after being fouled on a play; time down to 1:43. 

Pedregosa, however, missed an opportunity to add a bit more cushion to the lead but she missed a free throw.

La Salle patiently worked their next possession when point guard Lee Sario found a wide-open Espinas outside the three-point arc for a triple that gave DLSU a 43-42 lead with 13 seconds left. 

UE responded with running one-handed jumper by Cortinzao in the lane with six seconds left for a 44-43 lead. Cortizano missed her free throw that just left another window for La Salle to steal the game with six seconds left.

But a traveling violation slapped on Ben Revillosa sealed DLSU’s fate as the Lady Red Warriors escaped with a 44-43 victory.

UE punished La Salle with their work off the boards that saw a 52-39 advantage net 14 second chance points to the Lady Green Archers’ five. 

Cortizano posted a double double of 16 points and 10 rebounds to go with 2 assists. Princess Pedregosa also tallied a double double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Chini Espinas led La Salle with 12 points with Marga Jimenez added 11 points and 6 boards.

In other women’s games, UST won its second game in as many matches when they outlasted Adamson, 84-75. Centro Escolar University crushed Our Lady of Fatima University, 60-38.

Monday, April 8, 2019

UST upsets NU; Enderun wins in BBI women’s hoops

UST upsets NU; Enderun wins in BBI women’s hoops
by rick olivares

It isn’t the UAAP, but for the UST Golden Tigresses, it is still a win against the dominant women’s basketball team in the land today – the NU Lady Bulldogs.

UST held off a late charge by NU to win, 79-71, in the BBI Women’s Under-25 Summer Tournament at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center.

The Golden Tigresses overhauled a 33-29 half time deficit for a six-point 52-46 lead after three frames played behind Ana Mae Tacatac’s 13-point spree that included three triples. 

Yet a six-point lead isn’t safe with NU’s deep line-up as they re-took the lead, 57-56 after Monique Del Carmen’s jump shot at the 6:19 mark. Lady Bulldog Kaye Pingol drilled a triple in NU’s next possession for a 60-56 lead. Del Carmen added two more free throws as NU threatened to pull away with UST firing blanks and turning the ball over.

But Tacatac went back to work as she nailed a trey and a jumper while teammate Callangan knocked down a three of her own to notch the count at 64-all. 

Both sides continued to trade baskets and the lead until the last two minutes where UST, nursing a slim 72-71 win, put the defensive clamps on NU which didn’t score the rest of the way. The Golden Tigresses on the other hand, scored seven points in that span, to put the game away.

The tandem of Grace Irebu and Tacatac were too much for NU to handle. Irebu tallied 25 points, 20 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal while Tacatac also managed a double double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

UST also pounded NU inside for a 40-28 advantage in points inside the lane.

NU’s duo of Del Carmen and Pingol combined for 26 points.

In other Women’s U25 matches, Enderun College used a 23-point first period as a springboard for a 58-47 win over Centro Escolar University.

Enderun’s Karen Baylosis and Larisao Sai also tallied double double. The former tabulated 15 points and 12 rebounds while the latter chalked up 13 points and 10 boards. 

UAAP Women’s Volleyball: FEU and Ateneo seize their moments

UAAP Women’s Volleyball: FEU and Ateneo seize their moments
by rick olivares

There are moments when the game turns on its head. Where either you seize the opportunity or lose it.

There were two of those this past UAAP Women’s Volleyball weekend.

The first was the FEU-UP game last Saturday that the Lady Tamaraws won in four sets (25-21, 19-25, 25-23, 25-22).

The Lady Tamaraws seized the lead with strong play by Jerilli Malabanan, Heather Guino-o, and Ivana Agudo. 

UP played better and took the second set.

The Lady Fighting Maroons started the third set well and had FEU on the back heel with some solid hitting. FEU charged back to tie the score and soon overtook UP. The Lady Tamaraws could have folded right there. But they didn’t. 

These are two emotionally fragile squads and it doesn’t take much to upset the cart. And this balances everything, missing players or not. When Isa Molde was sent in late in the first set, I thought that there was this Willis Reed moment. I thought if she scored, she would have blown the roof off the Big Dome. If she scored, that would have been one emotional rescue. But she didn’t and she was subbed out quickly because it was obvious she wasn’t there yet, physically and mentally. 

That moment would reprise itself in the fourth frame but it too passed without anything in the favor of UP.

In those crucial moments, it was FEU’s players who not only stepped up to the plate, but belted one out. That’s Czarina Carandang, Guino-o, and Agudo (with loads of help from Ria Duremdes). 

How big was that win? It vaults FEU to fourth spot at 7-4 and drops UP to fifth at 6-5.

It was like that as well with the Ateneo-NU match that saw the lady Eagles win their 10thstraight match (26-14, 24-26, 25-17, 25-19). It was similar to the FEU-UP match where Ateneo overpowered NU in the first, buckled in the second, looked shaky in the early part of the third but found their verve in the middle of the set that propelled them to a four-set win. 

When NU looked like they would turn the tables on the Lady Eagles, they got back in the game with defense. That five players scored in double figures (Jules Samonte and Kat Tolentino each scored 13, Maddie Madayag had12, and Bea De Leon and Ponggay Gaston added 10) shows that the team is humming and in step heading into this long-awaited return bout with La Salle. 

I liked how players like Jaycel delos Reyes, Jaja Maraguinot, Erika Raagas, and Vannie Gandler stepped in and gave quality minutes. Even if some didn’t score, it helps that they contributed in some way. That should bolster their confidence for the long haul. 

That the Lady Eagles are being tested throughout this 10-game win streak will only mean well for them come the playoffs as they chalked up that twice-to-beat advantage that comes with their league-best 10-1 record with three matches to play.

To paraphrase the old saying, “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.”

That will be tested to the hilt when they play DLSU.

The pursuit of mental toughness

The pursuit of mental toughness
by rick olivares

In quite a few of my post-mortems about UAAP volleyball matches, I have cited certain teams’ lack of mental fortitude in getting the job done.

To play consistent for an entire game is rare and what in all probability is the perfect game. That is few and far in between. More often than not, in the space of two hours – the average time of a ball game – there is that ebb and flow. 

I have wondered how a team can look so imperious one moment then lose the plot in the next breath.

Okay. I am not forgetting that these are college kids who aren’t fully mature. Heck, we even have folks in their 30s and 40s who aren’t mature yet. So maturity, elusive or not, is also key.

Having observed a lot of coaches in a variety of sports up close, I notice that many of them don’t really understand the importance of mental strength and training. They talk about it, but don’t really understand or teach it. Is experience enough? 

Again, if it isn’t solely age, experience isn’t enough. You head coaches say something to effect, “And tanda mo na ganyan pa rin laro mo.” Obviously, it is a combination of a lot of things.

Watching Anusorn Bundit bring meditation into the regimen of the Ateneo Lady Eagles was good and you see other teams do it now. But in my opinion, watching them employ that technique during games, the inability to converse fluently in English didn’t help at some point.

There is something I tell athletes who I mentor about the value of communication and leadership. You see athletes talking during the huddle or on the court. That’s good, but that isn’t everything either. I tell them that leadership and communication begins off the court and not during a game. If a team captain hardly talks outside the court so what makes people think the others will listen during game time. 

Yes, lead by example. That is right, but again, it isn’t everything. A team is made up of disparate individuals; each with different traits, ways of thinking, or value systems. I think for a coach or someone in authority to tap into that, they have to understand each and every person on that team. That way, you know what to say, how to motivate, and what buttons to push. 

I have heard one coach dismiss mental strength training because when he was playing, they never had any such thing and they won without it.

Obviously, this person doesn’t understand how times change. Does he even know how the game that he professes to love has grown so much that it hardly resembles the game when it was first drawn up with a peach basket by James Naismith?

One time, a player for this team also brushed aside the teachings of a sports psychologist. “They just mess with my head especially during a game,” this female athlete said. 

Point taken. I think that sports shrinks should also be sensitive enough to understand not only the game and its nuances, but also the team. 

I believe that sports teams, coaches, and athletes should really look into the mental aspect of the game. Just as much as skills training or strategy.

As the ultimate NBA winner Bill Russel once said, “Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.”

Imagine if people could bottle the secrets of mental toughness, everyone would be at their best. Impossible, right? 

Yet on the flipside, this arena of flawed people trying to be the best they can be is what makes sports fascinating. Because it is about people for strive for greatness and even perfection. 

That is why when you have people like Michael Jordan, Pele, Roger Federer, Jack Nicklaus, and others who sit on the Mount Olympus of sports, they are celebrated and feted as GOATs.

I will discuss this with some winning coaches and try to get their take on it in the next column.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A close shave by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars

A close shave by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars
by rick olivares

It’s a big win no doubt, 73-72. But this game one semi-finals win by the Bataan Risers over the Manila Stars leaves just a bit of cause for concern. 

They led 65-48 heading into the fourth period. It is there they suffered a massive meltdown as the Stars outscored them 25-8 in front of a shocked and nervous home crowd. 

I wonder though if the “homecourt” advantage worked for Bataan. That is because prior to game one, the Manila Stars played three away matches at the Bataan People’s Center and are 3-0 there. They know the atmosphere, the vibe, the tough rims, and the crowd. Like Bataan, they have suffered one loss there. 

But back to the second sup-bar finish. In the quarterfinals series, the Caloocan Supremos made one last push in the fourth period after Bataan threatened to pull away.

Is it a question of overconfidence or the opposition rising to the occasion? Or both?

The Risers managed only four points in the final minute of play while the Stars scored seven. And that old problem of poor free throw shooting was on display as Bataan only hit two of four. Were it not that big a cushion and probably a minute more of play, Manila could have verily come away as winners.

But as crucial as those misses from the free throw line by Bataan, it was worse for Manila that was awarded 38 free throws but hit only 11. 

Both teams did suffer from bad shooting days. Some of the key players on both sides didn’t perform well. There were exceptions – Richard Escoto for Bataan and Aris Dionisio for Manila – but the bad game cancelled out a lot of things. 

Although Manila won the battle of the boards 61-54, Bataan did not really pay for the second chances afforded as Manila had a slight slight edge in that category, 14-13.

The battle inside was crucial and both teams scored 38 points each in the lane. 

It looks like those six games where Bataan won by four points or less came into play. The Risers are now 6-0 when it comes to games decided by four point or less. The win also avenges the first loss of the season to Manila.

Ugly win or not, a win is a win, and it gives Bataan one game ahead with two chances to advance to the division finals. And now it is time to take the game on the road. 

The Manila Stars are 1-1 at the Filoil Flying V Centre while the Bataan Risers have yet to play there this season. 

Should that matter? Not at all. They have an even better record on the road than at home 15-1 (away) to (11-1). 

Whatever it is, Game Two is going to be another close match.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

UST’s Kung-Fu Reyes: No excuses. Laban lang.

UST’s Kung-Fu Reyes: No excuses. Laban lang.
by rick olivares pic by efigenio toledo IV

The University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses are currently in third place in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball standings with a 5-3 record. For Coach Emilio “Kung-Fu” Reyes’ charges, they have done well in spite of a pre-season injury to Tin Francisco and the loss of middle hitter Milena Alessandrini. 

The record notwithstanding, UST has been one of the toughest to beat. Outside fifth sets, they have only scored less than 20 points in three sets. 

We caught up with Reyes to reflect on the Golden Tigresses’ season thus far and one of the keys to his team’s good play has been the communication between himself and his players and they amongst themselves.

“Hindi lang naman sila ang natututo sa akin,” downplayed Reyes. “Ako rin natututo sa kanila – sa mga sitwasyon at sa pakikibagay sa tao.”

He admits that he can still can get mad at his girls, but he has learned to mix it up. Humor and encouragement will go a long way in getting something out of his girls instead of merely yelling at them. “Mahalaga yung communication off the court,” he disclosed. “Sa practice, I allow them to share their thoughts about yung mga plano namin sa opensa at depensa. Sila rin kasi yung nasa court. Kung maganda naman ang suggestion bakit hindi natin papakinggan? At siyempre, para meron accountability.”

It would be easy to just cruise despite the injuries, but what was crucial in the aftermath of the debilitating loss of Alessandrini to another injury is telling his charges that they should be no excuses. “Minsan puwede mo gamitin yun as an excuse, but hindi puwede excuse ‘yan all the time. Kasi kung puro ka excuse, eh naghahanap ka ng justification kung bakit ganyan lang pinapakita mo. Alam naman natin, mahirap ang buhay so it is yung attitude mo sa ganyan ang importante at iaangat mo sa mga bata.”

After two straight Cherry Rondina errors allowed Ateneo to take the fifth set, 15-11, for their seventh win in eight matches, Reyes lamented their collapse (they took the first two sets before the Lady Eagles charged back to take the last three). But he was also quick to dismiss it. “We have to learn our lessons and hope makabawi kami,” postulated Reyes. “Dapat ang mindset, ‘next time tayo magtagpo – kami naman.”

Reyes also pointed out to the contributions of his newcomers Eya Laure, Mafe Galanza, Kecelyn Galdones, and Janel Delerio to name a few who have really given UST an edge. “Palaban yung mga bata,” pointed out Reyes. “Kahit si Sisi (Rondina) na hindi kailangan motivation maglaro ay nabuhayan.”

“Ang mga tao ay nagsasabi ng ‘our future is bright,’” closed Reyes. “Hindi namin iniisip yung kasi hindi namin control yun. Ang iniisip namin ay yung ngayon. Laban lang. Tignan natin kung saan tayo aabutin.”
The UST Golden Tigresses return to the court on March 27 against Adamson at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

MPBL North Division Semi-finals Preview: Bataan vs Manila

North Division Semi-finals Preview: Bataan vs Manila
by rick olivares

Bataan Risers (23-2)
Manila Stars (20-5)

Bataan sweeps Caloocan 2-0
91-71 at Bataan
83-71 at San Andres, Manila

Manila sweeps Bulacan 2-0
69-65 at Bataan
92-83 at San Andres, Manila

You can bet Bataan was looking forward to this match-up. Manila gave them their first black eye of the season – an 89-82 loss to start out the 2018-19 campaign – so this one is where the Risers who have come a long way from that June 16 tussle as the San Andres Sports Complex.

At this point, you can throw out the regular season record. Both teams are back to square one.

For starters, the team chemistry is much better. Two, they have a somewhat different line-up as Ervin Grospe is still out after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in that game and Jeepy Faundo and Jayjay Alejandro are in the PBA. In their place, they added more potent pieces in Yvan Ludovice, Richard Escoto, Barkley Eboña, and Arvie Bringas. 

Gab Dagangon isn’t that player he was then. He didn’t score a point in that early season match-up and grabbed only two rebounds (in less than six minutes of play). Since that time, he has become the energizer for Bataan and a scoring and defensive force for the Risers. 

They have several go-to players in Pamboy Raymundo, Gary David, Richard Escoto, Yvan Ludovice, and Dagangon who can manufacture their own shots. 

In my opinion, the Risers hit their stride after the win over the Quezon City Capitals in early August of 2018. That win was their biggest to that date and propelled them to their 14-game win streak. 

This team is flush with confidence and has better team chemistry and balance. The rotation and the substitution pattern is better with all the players knowing their roles. Up and down the line-up, the Risers’ produce. 

Having said that, for Bataan to defeat Manila, they will need to outwork them on both ends of the court. They will need to keep Manila’s frontline from dominating the boards on both ends of the court. 

Speaking of the court, Bataan will have to hold serve in their home court. That is what they worked so hard for – to nail that home court advantage and the home crowd that comes with it. 

You have to give it to Manila for standing pat on their current line-up. It is already a tough one and they will battle the Risers tooth and nail for every possession.

Like the San Juan Knights, the Stars have a very tough frontline in former JRU Heavy Bombers John Lopez and Marvin Hayes (they weren’t teammates as the latter entered first) as well as former FEU Tamaraw and Barangay Ginebra center Reil Cervantes. 

And there is former St. Clare Saint Aris Dionisio who is one of the best power forwards in the amateurs. This kid has been racking up individual awards next to team trophies in the NAASCU and D-League. He doesn’t need any plans called for him. He is like former San Miguel Beerman Freddie Abuda (in terms of scavenging for offensive rebounds) although with a medium range jumpshot. Just like everywhere he goes, he is the top shot blocker. And Dionisio is the top shot blocker in the MPBL. 

They also have some potent scorers in former Arellano Chief Adrian Celada (if he returns from an injury that has sidelined him for about five matches now) and former ex-pro Roger Yap. And to think they aren’t using Jasper Parker in the way they should. Marcy Arellano gets more minutes. Celada is the best in field goal percentage in the MPBL. 

If Manila rules the boards and the second chance points, expect them to have one foot in the win door for Game 1. But make no mistake… it will be a titanic battle. 

One huge stat from the first time they met is in assists. Manila finished with 24 while Bataan had 11. 

Again, this is a different team mentally and team-work wise that Manila will face.