RP Women’s U23 Team practice Day 4
by rick olivares
After Day 3 of practice for the RP Women’s Under-23 National Team, San Sebastian Lady Stags’ open spiker Gretchel Soltones slumped to the court and said – to no one in particular – “Ang hirap ng practice ni Coach Tai.”
Coach Tai is Anusorn Bundit, the Thai coach of the two-time UAAP Women’s volleyball champions, Ateneo Blue Eagles, who is helping train the national team that is headed by his blue and white predecessor, Roger Gorayeb who is inside Blue Eagle Gym for the first time since he left the program (he does go inside the campus as his son is in the Ateneo High School).
Bea De Leon, with sweat profusely streaming down her forehead laughed, “Wala pa sa kalahati yung sa pinapagawa sa amin ni Tai.”
Soltones says that she looks forward to Jia Morado setting her up for smashes. Morado kids that she’s not. The two laugh then hug.
The team sorely needs it as well.
Day 4, finds a few more players inside the gym as part of the national team. Joining the resident Ateneo contingent of Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, and De Leon are NU Lady Bulldogs Myla Pablo and Jaja Santiago. There’s San Sebastian’s Soltones and the pint-sized libero Alyssa Eroa. There’s UST’s EJ Laure (Marivic Meneses had a game that afternoon). And there is Perpetual Help-Biñan’s Elaine Kasilag who in this first day of hers is in Tai and Gorayeb’s doghouse for her hitting technique that has all sorts of problems.
There are two others who are training with the Ateneo Lady Eagles who are joining the team for training. Set to join them soon are FEU’s Christine Agno, Dindin Santiago, and hopefully, Kim Fajardo who signified her intention to join but is waiting for a letter requesting her participation to her club team, Army.
As serious as the team’s practice is, there is room for levity. Eroa who stands less than five feet tall is less than half of the size of the 6’4” Jaja Santiago. The two, standing next to each other while fixing the net cut a stark and contrasting figure and bring to mind the iconic photograph of former Washington Bullets teammates Manute Bol (who is over seven feet tall) and Muggsy Bogues (who is 5’3”).
During the practice, Eroa, the Malabon native, is a talker. She is clearly going to hold her own against these heavy weights.
Among the volleyball cognoscenti watching, someone jokingly yells out to Tai to ease up on revealing some secrets to his game plan with the Ateneo volleybelles. The laughter reverberates.
During a water break, Gorayeb pulls Kasilag to the side to talk about the mechanics of her spiking. Kasilag blows hot and cold, the flaw in her form quite obvious. The rest of the team sits down and watches. When Kasilag walks over, they come over and give low fives. Some offer words of encouragement. Months ago, many were across each other; the net a demarcation line. This time around, they are teammates for a cause. As Santiago hammers a ball down with such powerful force, Bea De Leon offers a low five that the Lady Bulldog takes. The two, who will man the middle for the Philippines when the AVC U23 championship tip off next month, talk between when there are moments to catch their breath.
After nearly two hours, Gorayeb and Tai stand at center court and talk. They discuss the high points and other plans. They have started their two-a-days as they both understand that time is against them. During Day One of the practice sessions where only four players arrived, Bundit wondered aloud that the Thai team has been into training for three months now. The Philippines… not even a day as it has been beset by internecine warfare and tugging and pulling between the new federation and the old one that refuses to let go.
By the sidelines, team patron Choy Cojuangco and Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas President Joey Romasanta discusses with Gorayeb the need to get the girls properly outfitted and for their training gear. “Time to walk and feel like a national team,” declares Cojuangco who once helped Ateneo to back-to-back men’s volleyball titles when the school was playing in the NCAA. “That should make them feel about the mission instead of wearing shirts that have Ateneo, NU, San Sebastian, UST etc in front.”