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, March 13, 2015

Ella De Jesus: Standing tall with the Lady Eagles

This appears in the Monday, March 16, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

Ella De Jesus: Standing tall with the Lady Eagles
by rick olivares

Friday morning was possibly the second to the last practice for the Ateneo Lady Eagles. Long time teammates Denden Lazaro and Ella De Jesus who both matriculated at Loyola Heights at the same time five years ago (along with Alyssa Valdez) talked about how time seemed so slow and yet so fast. Now here they were on the eve of Game Two of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals holding a one-match lead of rival La Salle.

Even if there was business the two couldn’t help but reminisce about this journey that has taken them from a team of Lady Eagles learning to spread their wings to a juggernaut that doesn’t look to slow down any time soon.

“Time flies,” pronounced De Jesus during a conversation at Mom and Tina’s outside Ateneo.

Was it fun?

“Sobra!” she enthused.

More than five years ago, former Lady Eagles head coach Roger Gorayeb was recruiting players to go to Ateneo. He went to a Palarong Pambansa match to scout two players who were on his radar – St. James Academy’s Amanda Villanueva and this pint-sized girl who can jump and spike like no one’s business -- Ella De Jesus.

He hoped to lure both to Ateneo. He planned on converting Villanueva to a libero while adding De Jesus to the open spiker position. “At that time,” recalled Gorayeb, “wala akong pamalit kay Dzi (Gervacio) and Fille (Cainglet). Naghahanap kami ng player para sa maraming pwesto.”

Villanueva opted to go to La Salle (after which she transferred to Adamson) but Gorayeb was able to snag De Jesus. “Grabeng taas tumalon,” marveled the veteran coach.

Able to jump tall buildings in a single bound
In the semifinals of the Season 76, Ateneo played National University that had a twice-to-beat advantage. The Lady Bulldogs took the elimination round series against the Lady Eagles and they were heavily favored to challenge La Salle for the championship. Except the hard-charging Lady Eagles had other ideas.

The team was finally rounding into the form and peaking at the right time. And De Jesus played a key role in Ateneo’s ascent to college volleyball’s Mount Olympus.

During the first set, with NU up 11-10, Lady Bulldogs setter Ivy Perez set up the 6’2” Dindin Santiago for a massive spike. Except De Jesus blocked her for a point.

In the fourth set, with Ateneo leading 27-26, De Jesus blocked Jaja Santiago, the 6’4” younger sister of Dindin. Ella got the ball back then was set up for a thunderous spike to that made it, 28-26, to set up the sudden-death match against the Lady Bulldogs.

Against UST in Season 76, the Tigresses’ Carmela Tunay took off for a spike. De Jesus met her at the net and blocked Tunay for a point. Now what was incredible about that was Tunay was on her way down yet De Jesus was still at the peak of her jump. Talk about hang time.

“Ella-vator,” mused match barker Rolly Manlapaz who christened the diminutive spiker. “It was the first game of Season 73 at the San Juan Arena. Ateneo was playing UST (the Lady Eagles lost in five sets to an Aiza Maizo-led Tigresses squad). She (Ella) was so small but she jumped so high and the monicker came to me unconsciously.”

She loved the nickname. And so did the crowd.

“I think it’s a cool nickname,” cooed De Jesus.

Ella is at a loss to explain how she can get up so high. “Maybe it’s because I played a lot of badminton when I was younger and I remember that I could just jump high for a smash.”

Did the quick movements on the badminton court help her in volleyball? “Yes it did.”

During the Shakey’s Girls Volleyball Tournament of 2009, De Jesus was named the Best Spiker but also the Best Blocker.

The pursuit of happiness
On the verge of a second straight championship, Ella and her teammates still cannot believe that they are in a position to further write history.

Much like last year, they literally take it one game at a time. “We never set goals like, ‘Ah, we want to win the championship.’ One game at a time then Final Four. Once we go past that, one game at a time pa rin,” related Ella. “Dun na lang when we are in a position to win it that we think, ‘let’s go for it.’”

The Lady Eagles do not celebrate boisterously unlike others. “We prefer to smile and laugh pero amongst ourselves. Hindi kami nakikipag-trash talk. Mas nakakainis para sa kalaban na nangaasar tapos naka ngiti ka lang.”

However, more than a year ago, no one was smiling in the aftermath of the departure of Gorayeb and the entry of Anusorn Bundit.

“We first met ‘Coach Tai’ (as he is fondly called) at Solaire,” recounted De Jesus of that first meeting with their Thai head coach. “Unang tingin pa lang nakakatakot si coach. Mukhang too serious. There was a buffet and we were all getting food when he went up to us and said, ‘Yes, eat lots of food. Need energy for tomorrow.’ We wondered what that was all about. At the table, we were told about his training program and what he wanted us to do. Three times a day yung gusto niya na training but Sir Tony (Liao the team manager) said that we have school. So naging two times a day. Nawalan kami ng appetite. On the way back to Ateneo, in the team bus, parang gusto na namin bungguin yung bus para hindi na magbukas.”

Coach Tai’s training regimen from the early morning runs to the hard practices to the meditation techniques all worked and the Lady Eagles all bought into everything he was teaching.

De Jesus recalled one time when the team was so banged up and sore yet still got up for their 530am run. “We gathered at the oval and he said, ‘five rounds.’ We were dejected but we didn’t complain.”

Bundit blew the whistle to signal the start of the run. A few seconds later, he blew the whistle once more. “Go home,” he said. “I just wanted to see if you will all do it.”

It was a test. Bundit wanted to see how the team reacted. No one complained. Even if they didn’t like it. They remained committed and focused. Every single Lady Eagle cried. They were tears of relief, joy, a mixture of both.

As hard as Bundit is with practice, the players love and appreciate their coach. They are believers. The results have made them not only better volleyball players but they have made college life more fun and memorable. “I never ever thought that we’d be playing in front of huge crowds and win a championship,” beamed De Jesus. “It’s like a dream. And maraming memorable moments.”

Ella shared one of those moments that took place during a match. Instead of the meditating or the usual happy happy thoughts, he made the girls sing Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” during a time out. “It worked! Nakakaiba talaga. Coach does that to make us feel happy and not pressured.”

With an opportunity to close out the series and a second title, De Jesus says that the team will give it their best. “We don’t go into games thinking, ‘ah, panalo na ‘to.’ Laro lang kami. Give it our best. But we would really like to win it.”

Now that would be the perfect way to ride off into the sunset of the college days of Ella De Jesus and her teammates.


Additional reading: Valdez wins second MVP Award

Post-Game 1 analysis Ateneo's win over DLSU


  1. Nice read! Thanks sir Rick.
    I really have seen the Lady Eagles improve a lot since last year - its amazing, like seeing a cocoon open before your eyes and out came not a butterfly but a soaring eagle! Lol.
    That 'Bubbly' moment is totally adorable, the cameras should have caught it on TV.
    And Ella, I am just a fan but I am so proud and so happy for you. You have reached places and hearts that you could never know. I will pray for you (and mind you, I will!) that your future will be brighter than it is today. Thank you for everything, Ellavator!

  2. Nice read sir! These kind of stories that most of us fans (outside Ateneo) doesn't know of. Thank you for sharing. We will miss Ella! She's a motivation to many height-challenged aspiring athletes, please tell her that. We hope to see her play again in the near future!

    Can we expect you'll put up something on Denden and Ayel?

  3. Appreciate the article. I'm a big fan of "working horse" type players (Baclao, Gonzaga, and now de Jesus). Would be even better if her super-sub days (under Coach Gorayeb) were tackled more.

  4. huhu I'm gonna miss Ella too! It's fun to know more about them :) Thanks for this wonderful article!

  5. I hope I can see personally my idol ELLA DE JESUS,kahit sa birthday ko lng,kahit na mahirap mangyari,kse na nsa province ako at nsa manila sya,I miss her playing volleyball,kung mkikita mo to idol pls. search maryjoy manzanares thank you po :)

  6. I hope I can see personally my idol ELLA DE JESUS,kahit sa birthday ko lng sa june,kahit na mahirap mangyari at kahit na nsa province ako sya ay nsa manila :( I miss you playing volleyball idol,kung mkikita mo sna to idol pla. search maryjoy manzanares :) ako po yun :)