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.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Philippine Super Liga: An idea whose time has come

The Philippine Super Liga: An idea whose time has come
by rick olivares

The music was throbbing making conversation almost impossible. My old Solar Sports colleague Noel Zarate sidled up to me and giddily whispered, “You are in the presence of volleyball royalty.”

I nodded and smiled, “Don’t we know it.”

Thursday night was the press launch for the new Philippine Super Liga at 7th High at BGC. Philippine Super Liga is the first commercial women’s volleyball league in the Philippines and it features many former stars from the UAAP, NCAA, V-League, and other leagues from around the country.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

With the exception of basketball, many college stars of various sports would go to the Armed Forces to continue their athletic careers and for them to compete for the national team. And volleyball was no exception. “Love namin yung sport,” emphasized Mary Jean Balse who joined the Army team to continue playing and for a shot at representing the country in international competitions. “Kaya pumasok kami sa Army. Masaya kami may chance na ganito.”

Back in the middle years of the first decade of the new millennium, I was working for Solar Sports as marketing manager and it was really tough to find sponsors for the Shakey’s V-League then. I have always loved the sport. I played it during intramurals, watched a lot of Olympic, Grand Prix, and beach volleyball, and played it recreationally. While at Solar, I wrote, produced, and shot the first V-League plugs including that of the national team (it’s on YouTube). I would watch the UAAP volleyball games (not just the women but also the men’s teams as well) either at UP, Ateneo, or even FEU. There’d be only a handful of people watching then. But the crowds began to come including all the wrong ones.

During the 2007 season, there was an incident where a football referee was taking pictures of a women’s team from an opening in the ceiling (he was caught and jailed only to be released on bail). One time, we even caught a perv taking shots of the players’ behinds (we threw him out but not before confiscating his SD card).

Soon the UAAP and V-League matches were playing to packed arenas. Soon volleyball officials began to toy around with the idea of a change in venue to where they could draw bigger crowds. And then last season, it turned into a reality.

“May part sa akin na happy for the girls (of the past UAAP season) na nakapaglaro sa Araneta Coliseum and sa MOA, may part na naiinggit din,” confessed Mercado. “Pero it’s all good. For the good of the sport. At least now sa Super Liga, I can be a part of this historic league.”

The UAAP had the foresight in seeing the potential for volleyball. In fact, for quite sometime now, volleyball aside from basketball have been the two mandatory sports in the league. Schools had the option not to field teams in other sports but for hoops and volleyball, it was a requirement.

“Now is a good time as any to begin this,” said PSL President Ramon “Tats” Suzara who says that the tickets to the Sunday opening are almost all gone. “Kasabay pa namin yung UAAP and the Ateneo-La Salle game. But we all know the crowd of volleyball is different. This is good for the sport and for Philippine sports. We are also happy that Solar Sports is covering the PSL. They have been known to be daring and innovative in their programming. And they are no strangers to volleyball because they have covered the V-League in the past.”

The inaugural tournament of the Philippine Super Liga has six teams – Bingo Milyonaryo, Cagayan Valley, Cignal, PLDT MyDSL, Petron Blaze, and Philippine Army – competing in a single round robin affair from July 7-28. The opening matches on Sunday, July 7 will be held at the Philsports Arena with Cignal taking on Petron at 2pm. PLDT-MyDSL and Bingo Milyonaryo tangle at 4pm while Cagayan Valley, recent winners of a tournament held in Mindanao face off with powerhouse Philippine Army at 6pm.

The top for teams advance to the semifinals.

“Malaking bagay yung Super Liga in furthering the growth of volleyball,” said Michelle Datuin, the former La Salle Lady Spiker who will be playing for Cignal that is coached by Sinfronio Aycalar. Some of her well-known teammates include former UST Tigress Venus Bernal and NU Lady Bulldog Jennylyn Reyes. “Now college players have something to look forward to when they are done with college.”

Datuin who last played for La Salle a couple of years ago went into the food business after and has hardly played since. “Yung ang challenge,” she underscored. “To get back into shape.”

Former college teammate Stephanie Mercado who is with Bingo Milyonaryo also went in to food business after her UAAP career was over. She also took a day job for a while. “Your mind knows you can do all these things but your body tells you otherwise. When I found out that tuloy na tuloy na tong Super Liga, I began running and hitting the gym. Maraming bagong teammates so kailangan maghanap kami ng time to jell.”

Former Ateneo Lady Eagle Charo Soriano has played on and off with her alma mater in the V-League as she too has a day job. “It’s going to be fun. I have a different set of teammates when I was in college and never really got to play with sila Gretchen (Ho), Fille (Cainglet) and the others except in the V-League. In our Super Liga team, yung former rivals na sila Angge Tabaquero, Rhea Dimaculangan, Aiza Maizo who played for UST are now our teammates. It’s exciting.”

“Ganyan naman,” added Mercado. “Friends off the court pero on the court walang bigayan ‘to. Even for former teammates. Magkakasubukan na, di ba?”

A quick poll among the players at the PSL launch had them tabbing Cagayan Valley and Army as the teams to beat. “Ang ultimate winner dito ay yung sport,” interjected Suzara. “We are very confident that it will continue to grow.”

Conspicuously missing from any PSL team is former FEU star Rachelle Daquis who has returned to Germany to be with her mother. Prior to her departure last month, Daquis she might return in time to play for either the open tournament of the PSL.

Recent V-League Most Valuable Player Rubie De Leon is taking a breather from the game as she is coaching high school girls’ volleyball. Former Ateneo setter Jem Ferrer also begged off to take some rest.

“The PSL will also give the newer volleyball fans a chance to see some of the girls who were the stars of the sport before the explosion of popularity of volleyball,” added Suzara. “There’s Mary Jean Balse of UST. The Carolino sisters (Michelle and Mayette), Ivy Remulla of the La Salle, Mic Mic Laborte of the University of Saint La Salle Bacolod, and others. Maganda ‘to.”

For sure, sir. For sure.

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