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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The way we were: Ateneo Men’s Volleyball circa 2005-10

After the Final Four loss to UST in 2009. All smiles. 
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The way we were: Ateneo Men’s Volleyball circa 2005-10
by rick olivares

Around 2005, Ateneo’s University Athletics Office began to put the pieces in place for a revamped volleyball program behind Coach Sherwin Malonzo who also played for the Ateneo High School Team. There would be problems along the way, false starts even. But the men’s and women’s volleyball teams were slowly getting better. The women’s team understandably got the lion’s share of help and support not to mention fan appeal. The men’s team on the other hand, toiled in relative anonymity.

But they had picked up some pieces that ensured that Ateneo Men’s Volleyball would no longer be dreary.

One of the first and literally big recruits of the men’s program was 6’4” Andre Joseph “AJ” Pareja who was a standout at Lourdes School (in Mandaluyong) and was recruited by other programs.

Pareja’s parents are both UST alums but they left it to their son to choose where he wanted to go for college. It sure helped that his brother Paolo was already in Ateneo.

“I went to Ateneo because I was thinking of my future beyond volleyball,” recalled AJ. “At that point, I was already set on taking up medicine. UST has a nice medicine program but they didn’t promise me that I’d get there through college. Ateneo however promised me the course of my choice. It was a risk because the med school was just conceived at that time but it paid off. In less than two months I am done with my hospital duties.”

Because of his height, AJ’s PE teachers in Lourdes tried to get him to play basketball. Pareja admitted he felt awkward playing the game. He did however gravitate to volleyball.

His Ateneo college teammate, Mike De Joya, who played middle blocker, on the other hand, also started out in another sport. “In the summer vacation before Grade 5, I managed to get an Ateneo Football Center flyer,” recounted De Joya. “I liked the pictures on the flyer and decided to give varsity football a shot. My coaches were amazing. Heading our training pool were Jong Castaneda, Edwin Cabalida, and the late great Chris Monfort. Seeing the varsity team play inspired me to push myself harder in practice, and in the Grade 6, I finally made the team. Although I played back-up to Aldous Madrangca who was the Grade School’s best goalkeeper back then, I made sure that every minute I was on the field, I was giving my all. I played football up until second year high school, relishing the keeper spot behind Martin Quimson (before he decided to stick to basketball). I loved football, but not having enough playing time on the field got to me. During that sophomore year in high school, Renchie Veracruz (who was my high school classmate, and also became a volleyball teammate from high school up until college) asked me to give volleyball a shot. I’d always been interested in volleyball, and seeing that I had nothing to lose, I went to volleyball practice right after football. The high school team had an excellent coach and motivator in Jouel Aquino, and his persistence to bring out the best in us proved its worth when, in a span of a couple of months, he was able to bring us up to speed with the rest of the teams in the PRADA and UAAP leagues.”

College volleyball on the other hand was so much different.

Macky Limgenco, a teammate of Pareja’s and De Joya’s related their ‘dark days’: “Being a volleyball player for Ateneo back then wasn’t easy. Support was limited to a jacket and a bag every two years. Our uniforms and a pair of shoes. Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets. I love the sport and the school otherwise I wouldn’t have continued. The ‘good old days’ were three full seasons of going 0-14 and two seasons where we went 2-12. It was a humbling experience. Coming off the Ateneo Boys Volleyball Team, I was used to winning and my ego was way up there. The adjustment was brutal and brought my ego crashing back to earth.”

“Back then it was disheartening being an overlooked team,” added Pareja. “We wouldn’t get support so it was hard to push yourself. The ambition was there but there was no motivation.”

“Boy, I was glad that AJ was no longer an opponent,” said De Joya of Pareja who he went up against in high school PRADA competition. “But I went on to have some great teammates in Pao Pareja, Macky, Mark Salvador, and Timmy Sto. Tomas. We had a young, driven team, and we were aching for a win. That win came during our first game of the UAAP season against the Adamson Falcons.”

“I thought that Adamson game was going to be another 0-1 start,” chimed in Limgenco. We lost the first set. Surprisingly won the second. Lost the third. Then in the fourth, we were down 23-20. For some reason, we were playing very competitively. We won that set and it dawned upon us that we could actually win the game.”

In that fifth set, Ateneo was down 13-10 when they rallied. With Mike De Joya serving, Limgenco said aloud, “Ipasok mo lang.” Soon enough, the score was tied at 13-all. Adamson scored but Paolo Pareja who was having the game of his life tied it once more. Renchie Veracruz served and Ateneo had match point. On Veracruz’ next serve, the Falcons received it well and went into their offense. With their top hitter ready spike the ball, Limgenco rose at the same time – and blocked the shot. And the ball dropped in for match point.

“People started screaming,” recalled Limgenco. “A huge roar went around the UP Kinetics Gym. Other teams congratulated us. It was like winning a championship.”    

Added De Joya, “Although it was only one of two wins we had that season, we knew we had something going. The following season, we were much stronger, and teams no longer saw Ateneo as a “sure-win” game for them; this time, they had to prepare for us. Despite great performances by the team, we failed to improve on the previous year’s record.”

“But our opponents never looked at us as a practice game anymore,” said a proud Limgenco.

The Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team progressed. By AJ Pareja’s final year, they had made the Final Four where they lost to FEU in four sets. “That was the best ever finish for the men’s team for the longest time. It was a great feeling but I know we could have achieved more.”

Every year, new weapons were added to the mix – Julborg Africa, the power hitting Duane Teves, the high-leaping Xavier Señoren, and JJ Sandoval but somehow the team was still beset by bad luck. Africa got injured and De Joya, Sandoval, Señoren, and Rey Africa were sidelined with academic problems. They looked good only if they were complete.

This season, they have finally put it together and will be facing defending champion National University in the Finals. It will be reigning league MVP Peter Torres up against the upstart Ateneo team led by Marck Espejo.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team now,” gushed Pareja who was named the league's Most Valuable Player during the 2009-10 season that was in itself a huge accomplishment. “The men’s team have actualized the dream that we all had back then.”

“This is the product of what was started in my freshman year,” pointed out De Joya. “This is the shared vision we had, and we all saw this coming. This is what we’d all been fighting for. This was years in the making. I love that we’re seeing growth from the seeds we planted years ago.”

“Coach Sherwin once told us that our batch was the foundation for something new,” revealed Limgenco. “Honestly, I thought he was nuts. Six years after I hung up my sneakers, the men’s team is now in the finals. Coach Sherwin was right. We helped pave the way. Win or lose, I can now say, 'In the good old days…'”


I followed the men's volleyball team for several seasons. I missed those 0-14 teams but was there for the beginning of the 2-12 years. I stopped watching the year after they finished third place as work got more demanding. Hopefully, I'll be back. But those years -- for all the good and the bad -- remain a good memory. Now if this current team can do it….

Read ENDINGS that is about the Final Four game against UST in 2009. 

And read The Way We Were Part 1


  1. I hope to see you at Araneta when we play NU, Rick!

  2. Full force on Saturday in Araneta! I'm treating that ALE knock-out as a championship game :) With Coach Tai (in the finals fingers crossed, if at all) it will be a different ballgame vs the lady spikers. Doable. It still has to win 2 games against us, so if ALE gets the first game, it will be a best of three affair. But get it done on Saturday first. For the men's, NU already had their first title last season. It's now your time. OBF!

  3. Marck is the man (boy, he's just 16!)! I'm watching the ADMU-FEU F4 knockout and De La Calzada's antics and merriment were reduced to remorse towards the latter of the crucial 3rd and 4th. Well he had his run. He's not leaving college without a title. That's fair enough. Changing of the guard tho. Malayo pa mararating nitong si Espejo.

    1. Dang! Grats! Now getting the ROY and MVP on a same season, that's historical. 2 beses ko pa lang narinig sa sports ito --- sa pro, si Benjie sa PBA. Sa ama UAAP, muntikan si Parks jr sa basketball kundi dahil sa technicality. Still wala pa kong alam na nakagawa na nito sa anu mang sports. Wag muna matapos today guys! OBF!

    2. Dang, sayang! kung nakuha yong 4th, anything coulda happened in a 5th set. You can't ask for more. You live and die with your main man. Still proud of the men's achievement! Go Ateneo. Malayo pa mararating nito. Ang babata pa nito. Next year, we'll support you guys again. Win or lose, it's the school we choose.

  4. Wag sana isipin ni C Oliver na first ever finals ito...katulad ng paulit ulit na sinasabe ng mga anchor. Napantayan lang nila ang una ng nagawa ng 1981 MVT. Pero fail yong team na yon. Kaya don't rest on your achievement now. One notch higher...get the title. And it will really be the FIRST and ONLY title (so far, fingers crossed) of any ADMU MVT in the UAAP. Added motivation, I hope and not cause for jitters. OBF!

  5. Wow, what a game the 2nd was! Same theme. Got 1st, blew 2nd, got 3rd and 4th (no extended sets unlike the first game) this time. And ALE marches on to the finals! As for the men's, bawi on Wednesday. Nawala depensa natin doon. OBF!

  6. ano real name ni #5 vian?