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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Thoughts on how June Mar Fajardo being sidelined helped the San Miguel Beermen

This appears on

Thoughts on how Fajardo being sidelined helped the Beermen
by rick olivares

On the eve of Game Seven of the PBA Philippine Cup, aside from the San Miguel Beermen making history as they first team to get back in the game after falling to a 0-3 hole and being on the verge of a historic comeback, (and conversely, Alaska on the precipice of infamy for surrendering a 3-0 lead), I think the injury  to June Mar Fajardo was a turning point for SMB.

It is one thing to lose the team’s (as well as the league’s) Most Valuable Player but it is altogether a different thing for a team to learn how to fly without him. You can say that it took SMB three matches to get used to playing without their franchise center and yet they didn’t easily roll over for Alaska.

Sans Fajardo, the Beermen lost the first three matches of the finals by an average of 6.3 points. Then SMB won the next two games by 9.5 points. And with Fajardo back for Game Six albeit in limited minutes, they crushed the Aces by 11, 100-89, to force a Game Seven.

Even without Fajardo, the Beermen were a tough nut to crack. Gabby Espinas and Yancy De Ocampo stepped into the breach and gave Alaska’s bigs no quarter. When Fajardo was back in Game Six, Alaska was in all sorts of trouble because there was no respite from SMB’s rejuvenated frontline.

Whether San Miguel wins the title or not (and yet momentum is clearly on their side right now), that injury to Fajardo could serve the team well in the long run because it clearly underscored the mental toughness of the Beermen and the depth of their frontcourt. 

For too long Yancy De Ocampo has taken a backseat to his younger brother Ranidel of the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters. Although Yancy contributed now and then to the vastly successful B-Meg/San Mig teams of the last few years, his performance now must breathe new life into his career at 35 years of age. He is playing quality minutes and is averaging 9.5 points (hitting double figures three times) and 6.6 rebounds in the Finals. 

Espinas was a good part of Alaska before being traded to SMB and in this finals, he showed his physical presence and how he too could wreak havoc on his former team that has its own bruising frontline in Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel. Even better, Gabby is playing under control without his intensity level not abating one iota. Sure, he may be up against his former squad but he has made his presence felt.

Outside YDO and Espinas, there’s one other Beerman who has greatly elevated his game — Chris Ross. For sure Ross has performed well for a spell now. However, I will not forget during one game of the Philippine Cup finals of Season 40, SMB coach Leo Austria tapped Ross to come in at one point. To my surprise and watching from across their bench, a team official who isn’t even part of the staff held Ross back and instead motioned for Alex Cabagnot to enter the game. Was it an indictment on Ross’ game (aside from trying to usurp Austria)? 

Ross had bounced around the league. With the Beermen, the San Antonio, Texas native was on his fourth PBA squad since being drafted number four overall by Coca Cola in 2009. He donned the colors of Sta. Lucia and Meralco before finding himself with Petron/SMB.

Late last season, Ross began to play better and well, right now, he has found a home with the Beermen. He is probably one of the top point guards in the league as he makes things happen with defense and a lot of smarts. And without a doubt, he will run that position for the Beermen for years to come. 

Prior to SMB’s two titles last season, their previous championship was during the Governors’ Cup of 2011. Only two players remain in SMB’s roster from that year — Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot. The team has since been overhauled. Cabagnot who had become that team’s clutch player hitting many a game winner, was traded away before he was brought back last campaign. 

Now, they’ve got so many studs (not to mention solid role players) in the clutch. Sometimes, one doesn’t really need to make trades to make a team better. It’s simply giving the ones in your roster the opportunity to show their worth. And they sure have. It will be easier for Austria to rotate his bigs and give Fajardo longer rest to keep him fresh for the long haul. Like I said, no quarter. And if you ask me, they’ve just put the league on notice that they’ll be competing for titles for quite a while.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ateneo Blue Eaglets: That One Big Fight against the Adamson Baby Falcons

Ateneo Blue Eaglets: That One Big Fight against the Adamson Baby Falcons
by rick olivares

For the first time all season long, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets picked up a huge win against a Final Four opponent; an 82-73 victory over the tough and talented Adamson Baby Falcons at the San Juan Arena.

Entering the match, the Blue Eaglets were at 7-4; two losses each coming at the hands of undefeated National University and second-running De La Salle Zobel. The Falcons are the only other team other than NU to deal DLSZ a loss so you know they cannot be taken lightly. And these Falcons are tall, tough, athletic, deep, and can shoot. 

So the match up was between the league’s second best defensive team (Adamson) and the second best offensive team (Ateneo). But with solo third spot on the line, it was Ateneo that showed its defensive mettle.

This was a battle that was won through sheer heart, hard work and defense, and teamwork.

The defending champions have missed a beat without the Nieto brothers who are now in the seniors team. Gian Mamuyac and Shaun Ildefonso have stepped into the breach to add to the scoring. In fact, Ateneo is the second highest scoring team in the league; second to De La Salle Zobel with 76.7 ppg.

The point in question however is defense where the Blue Eaglets are ranked fifth.

Late in the game, they lost Jolo Mendoza and Jossier Hassan fouled out in succession with Ateneo holding a 71-70 lead with a good three minutes left to play. Losing your leader and leading scorer is huge. Hassan played a superb game finishing with a line 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. He was plagued by foul trouble (with all sorts of phantom calls whistled his way). But he moved well without the ball and was active on both ends of the court. I’d say this is probably the best I have seen him play. His leaner frame has not made him any less weak and I made sure to credit Coach Aris Manalo who has been working on the Blue Eaglet’s strength and conditioning for years now. 

And with their key losses to fouls, they also had to deal with spotty officiating that plagued them throughout the match. It would be easy to roll over and lose the game given the fouling out of two key players. But no. The Blue Eaglets battled back from a 16-point in the first half and nine-point deficit at the start of the fourth period. When they overhauled the lead late in the game, they held on to it for good.

Hard work and defense.
If you ask me, the Baby Falcons are more talented man for man. The hallmark of Blue Eaglet basketball is encapsulated in one word that they cheer in the huddle (if not “defense”) — “sipag.” 

The beat the taller Baby Falcons on the boards — 49-46. They had 10 steals to the 7 of Adamson and committed three fewer turnovers than Adamson’s 23. Plus, they finished with five blocks; three more than the Baby Falcons!

While their full court defense isn’t like last year’s model, it can still be pretty devastating. Mind you, Adamson are no slouches as they have the excellent Raygan Santos and Jayson Celis to bring up the ball. Throw in Ralf Chua as someone who can bring down that ball as well.

The Blue Eaglets held the Baby Falcons to 15 points in the fourth period while scoring 28 points!

When Hassan fouled out with 2:44 to play (the score was still 71-70), Adamson added only two more points while Ateneo 11 points the rest of the way. They scored six points inside the lane and added 5-6 free throws. 

Here’s a stat that is one of the first that I look at — assists — and the Blue Eaglets had one more, 6-15. Through 11 matches, they were averaging 17.0 assists a game, second to DLSZ. To finish with 16 is not so bad.

The other thing that I look at is what every player does. Ateneo coach Joe Silva fielded 13 players. Of the 13, only Alfonso Rosales and Sandro Soriano were unable to add to any stat be it a rebound, assist, steal, or block. Nevertheless, the minutes they contributed spelled some rest for their teammates and that counts. Furthermore, you could see how the bench stood up to recognize teammates as they went to the bench for whatever contributions they made. And the coaching staff made great in-game adjustments! Now that’s a team that is coming together. 

The Blue Eaglets have three players averaging in double digits — Jolo Mendoza, Gian Mamuyac, and Shaun Ildefonso who has grown by leaps and bounds this year. They also get some valuable help from SJ Belangel, Bryan Andrade, and RV Berjay. Point guard Justin Eustaquio played one of his best games. Like Hassan the stat line might not show a double double but he played the point guard spot with aplomb. He hustled, played hard, and wasn’t bullied at all by the taller foes. 

The Blue Eaglets, now at 8-4, have two more matches to play — against UST and FEU. The challenge is to play them one at the time and not get caught up in the big picture yet.

The team responded to a great challenge from a team they could meet again. 

UAAP Juniors team standings: 
NU 12-0
DLSZ 10-2
Ateneo 8-4
FEU 7-5
Adamson 6-6
UST 3-9
UP 2-10
UE 0-12

Got my signed Aleksandar Duric book!

I have been following Asian football for over a decade now and during this time, one footballer I have enjoyed following and writing about is Aleksandar Duric, the Bosnian-Singaporean forward for the Lions. I have had the pleasure of conducting three one-on-one interviews with him through the years and enjoyed every moment of them. We even had coffee once in Singapore (we chatted for about three hours). He even invited me to watch him play for the Tampines Rovers during one S-League match (which I did and that is the pic from above). 

A Singaporean media colleague of mine, Fabius Chen, was able to get Duric to sign my copy of his book at Kinokuniya today! Wish I was there but it's not so bad, right?

The book signing was well attended. Look forward to writing a book review.

Friday, January 29, 2016

When the shining moment slips away

This appears on the Monday, February 1, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

When the shining moment slips away
by rick olivares pic by arvin lim

People dream about stepping up to the plate and belting a home run to win a World Series. Or pulling up for a game winning jump shot just as time expires.

For Jonah Corpuz, middle blocker for the San Sebastian Lady Stags, it was a simple dream — she wanted to play volleyball. Correct that. She badly wanted to get on the floor and help her team win a championship. 

You see, since she entered college, her team has been to the finals twice yet each time were denied. Now in her final playing year, the Lady Stags were back. They swept the elimination round to earn a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals. But that didn’t count for much as the College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers spotted them a two-games-to-one Finals series lead.

Corpuz has seen her playing time dwindle over the past year as some of the younger players began got more playing time. During Game One of the Finals, she played a few minutes in a loss. For Game Two, she played even fewer minutes. In Game Three where San Sebastian extended the series, she didn’t even get on the floor at all. 

In this fourth game, her team was down two-sets-to-one. In the third set, the Lady Blazers looked like they were going to pull away for a three-set sweep at 14-10. Previously, the Lady Stags' Katherine Villegas misfired on a shot and San Sebastian head coach Roger Gorayeb looked to his bench and called for Corpuz. 

“Hindi ko alam kung ano iisipin ko,” she recalled as she raced to the officials table. She was half-excited and half-worried as her team was down. 

She offered a quick and silent player, “Sana matulungan ko team ko” while hoping she didn’t screw up and go back to the bench on what could be her last college game.

Instead, she scored in the next possession to triumphantly announce her entry into the match.

In that same set with the score at 22-all, Corpuz scored three consecutive block points to give her side a pulsating 25-22 third set win. Her teammates gathered ‘round her to congratulate her for her superb and uplifting performance.

“Magic bunot,” quipped San Sebastian assistant coach Clint Malazo as the two teams changed courts.

If you stand by the entrance to the court adjacent to the locker rooms of the San Juan Arena, you’ll always find Corpuz looking, glancing at the score of the ongoing match; waiting for the moment when her team could run onto the court for their match. That is how excited she is to play.

Corpuz hails from San Fernando, La Union where basketball and surfing are big. Yet the lass chose volleyball. “Yun (volleyball) ang gusto ko,” she softly offered. Although her world revolved around the Ilocos region she did wonder about studying in Manila. She just never thought that volleyball would get her there.

An older sister of Jonah’s was working at a hotel along with former Lady Stags player Sasa Devanadera. She told the latter that she had a sister who was a volleyball player and Devanadera promptly tipped off Gorayeb about a possible find. Gorayeb checked out the prospect during the Palarong Pambansa and decided that she could come to Manila to play for him. 

An excited Corpuz made her way to Manila to take up Tourism for her college course and to play for Gorayeb’s Lady Stags who were back-to-back NCAA champions. Little did she know her school would then fall into a drought while her playing time would go down through the years.

Now in Game Four of the Season 91 Finals, she had a chance to help her team win the prize that had eluded them for five years. Corpuz had chipped in seven huge points with five coming from block points and a couple from attacks down the middle. She battled CSB’s frontline and gave them fits. At one point, Jeanette Panaga, CSB’s middle blocker who would win Finals MVP honors post-game, tossed up a high-arcing shot to prevent from being rejected by Corpuz. It backfired as San Sebastian not only received the ball but scored on their next offensive.

With the score 23-22, Corpuz was ready to serve. The serve lacked power and drifted outwards where it hit the antenna for a service error; 24-22 for Benilde.

Corpuz couldn’t hide the pain in her face at the crucial error. She went to the bench, her face ashen, and unwilling to make eye contact with anyone. She looked up to the score and offered another prayer. But the Lady Stags were unable to make a kill. Benilde were the champions.

The graduating Tourism major couldn’t hold back the tears inside the locker room. She broke down on several occasions. She felt she had let the team down. Her teammates consoled her. One said that had she not played magnificently at the net there would have been no fourth set. It was small consolation. 

As she made her way out of the locker room, she hugged well wishers and struggled to hold back her emotions.

“Ang masakit nito ay wala na siyang chance to make it up,” sadly noted Gorayeb on the way to his team’s post-season dinner at the Kamayan sa Edsa. “Pero hindi ko siya sinisisi. Ganyan talaga ang sports. Ako hindi ko na kailangan manalo ng championship. Gusto ko manalo para sa mga player ko kasi mahirap din yung mga dinadaanan nila.”

With the NCAA volleyball season done, Jonah has just to finish her on the job training before taking the next step of her young life. She has a couple of options — to tryout for a team in the V-League or PSL or to work either in a hotel or even possibly as a stewardess. 

“Pero sana may chance na makapaglaro pa. Kahit konti,” she wished.

Is this for herself?

“Para makatulong sa team na manalo ng championship.”

Some people dream of hitting big shots that will be immortalized forever. For the good-natured and soft-spoken Jonah Corpuz, well, her dreams are simple. "I just want to play.”

“And to help a team win a championship."


When I began following the San Sebastian Lady Stags three seasons ago, Jonah became one of my favorite players on the team. While others fretted or pouted when things didn't go their way, she remained impassive. But you know certain things ate at her. Her going out of the locker room to check on the game being played before her team's -- yes, I've always noticed that. I could sense the frustration of not being able to play and wanting to help. I was happy to see her come up big this Game Four. That service error crushed her. She didn't care for being the hero. She just wanted to help her team.

After the post-season dinner, I told her that she shouldn't feel like she let the team down. She gave Benilde fits. If San Sebastian didn't lose the first two games they wouldn't have been in this rally-from-behind position. Corpuz played well and gave people a glimpse of how she can help a team. 

Here's to her fulfilling her dreams. 

At the Kamayan sa EDSA post-Game Four.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Looking at Gilas Pilipinas' foes in the Olympic Qualifiers

This appears on

Looking at our Olympic Qualifying foes
by rick olivares

There’s exhilaration about hosting the Olympic Qualifiers, but we cannot be too overly ecstatic here because the Philippines has tough draws in what is the Group of Death.

Of the five other countries making the trip to Manila for the July 4-10 qualifying matches, only one is ranked lower than the Philippines. Everyone else is higher.

France is fifth in the world followed by Turkey at eighth, New Zealand is at 21st, and Canada is at 26th while Senegal brings up the rear at 31. The Philippines finished 28th in the world after the October 2015 Continental Championships.

There will be a single round robin for each group after which the top two figure in a semi-finals knockout affair with the winners going to the finals. The winner will advance to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Let’s start with the teams bracketed with Team Philippines in Group B -- France and New Zealand.

Coach: Vince Collet. A former player who has been the team’s head coach since 2009. His best achievement is a gold medal finish in Eurobasket 2013. 
Outlook: Les Bleus will be the toughest opponent as they have battle tested veterans and a bevy of prime NBA players. 
They will be led by the great Tony Parker who even in the downside of a bemedalled career is still a handful. There’s Nicolas Batum, a small forward with the Charlotte Hornets. Forward/center Joffrey Lauvergne who wears the jersey of the Denver Nuggets. Shooting guard Evan Fournier is with the Orlando Magic. Boris Diaw, a power forward first came to prominence with Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns before joining the San Antonio Spurs. And lastly, seven-foot center Rudy Gobert who patrols the lane for the Utah Jazz.

if the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah suits up he’ll be another problem because of his size, rebounding, defense, and game smarts.

Batum, Fournier, Diaw, Parker, Noah, and Gobert contribute heavily to their respective NBA squads’ fortunes. 

Team profile: Every one stands over six feet tall. They’ve got a stratospheric front line that can score inside the paint as well as protect it.

Strengths: Experience, talent, and depth.

Weakness: Point guard position. Outside Tony Parker, the French do not have another all-world point guard. There’s Nando De Colo, one of their stars during Eurobasket 2015. But he isn’t Parker by any longshot. Others who could vie for the court general slot include Antoine Diot, Thomas Heurtel, and Leo Westermann who was the U20 European championships’ Most Valuable Player.

New Zealand
Coach: Paul Henare, a former player who also played in Europe and came up as an assistant before being named head coach. So he knows what this is all about. 

Outlook: The Tall Blacks and Gilas are both familiar with one another having played each other during preparations for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships while Philippine head coach Tab Baldwin used to handle them. In that match up, the Philippines lost the scrimmage by one-point albeit with a controversial call helping decide the outcome. That aside, it was a scrimmage. Scrimmages are different from matches with something on the line. Nevertheless, the Philippines knows they can play them. And with the homecourt advantage, you can bet the Philippines will exploit that to the hilt.

Team profile: New Zealand only have two players suiting up outside Oceania in forward/center Isaac Fotu (CAI Zaragoza in Spain) and Robert Loe who plays center for Limburg United in Belgium. It also remains to be seen if youngseven-footer Sam Timmins who is slated to play for the Washington Huskies next season in US NCAA basketball will suit up.

Based on their current line-up, they only have two veterans back from the 2010 FIBA World Championships campaign in forward and team captain Mika Vukona and small forward Thomas Abercrombie. Other fixtures on the team for the past few years include guard Corey Webster and swingman Reuben Te Rangi.

Sans any name players (read: NBA or Eurobasket pedigree) and the previous scrimmage result, the Tall Blacks cannot be underestimated. 

Strength: Height.

Weakness: Lack of international experience and a relatively young roster. 

Over in Group A, are other top-ranked teams Turkey, Senegal, and Canada.

Coach: Ergin Ataman who has a 12-year professional playing career and an even longer coaching career as he enters his second decade. Ataman is in his second year as head coach of "12 Dev Adam" or “12 Giant Men” as the Turks are nicknamed.

Outlook: 12 Dev Adam have yet to reach their glory years when they won a pair of silver medals in the 2001 Eurobasket and the 2010 FIBA World Championships. That latter team had four NBA veterans who had made names for themselves in Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova, and Semih Erden. 

The current squad has a few veterans from that silver medal finish — power forward Ilyasova, center Erden, shooting guard SiƱan Guler, forward Baris Hersek, and center Oguz Savas. Ilyasova is still in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons while another center, Furkan Aldemir is with the Philadelphia 76ers. Asik though might be available for the qualifiers giving the Turks more inside muscle. 

Their point guard is naturalized guard Bobby Dixon who played for US Division 1 side, Troy University but uses the name Ali Muhammed when playing for the Turkish national team. Dixon is currently playing for Fenerbahce in the Turkish league. Their make up is somewhat similar to Iran with loads of tall players however minus talented point guards.

Strength: 12 Dev Adam have the height and brawn to win the inside game. They can also snipe from the outside. Their weakness though is at the point guard position. In a halfcourt match up they’re tough, but in a running game or even if pressed they could have trouble. 

Weakness: Fast-paced game. Tony Parker and Les Bleus exposed them with an uptempo blitz that left the Turks in the dust 76-53.

Coach: Jay Triano who is best known for leading Team Canada to the 1983 World University Games gold medal by defeating a Charles Barkley and Karl Malone-led US team in the semifinals and a Drazen Petrovic-led Yugoslavia squad in the finals. He is a former Toronto Raptors coach and is now an assistant for the Portland Trailblazers. This is his second stint on the Canadian national squad.

Outlook: You cannot take this team for granted as they are another team loaded with NBA players such as Anthony Bennett and Corey Joseph (Raptors), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic), Kelly Olynuk (Boston Celtics), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), Tyler Ennis (Milwaukee Bucks), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers), Robert Sacre (Los Angeles Lakers), Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), and Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves). No doubt, they’ll be led by Wiggins, Thompson, Joseph, Ennis, and Stauskas. They can play inside. They can shoot and are athletic. Plsu, they’ve got size inside.

Strength: They are young and athletic. And have a deep rotation. 

Weakness: Inexperience. But this is relative. Canada has started moving up in the basketball standings and are producing more and more quality players. 

Coach: Cheikh Sarr

Outlook: Long shot to advance. They’ve got the height and athleticism but in terms of basketball jones or smarts, not there… yet. Most of the team plays in Europe but not for any top sides. 

The Philippines knows them well having squeaked past them in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, 81-79. They are led by their one NBA player in Gorgui Dieng who plays center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

Strength: They have the height. Well, every one else is taller than the Philippines. Experience-wise, the Lions, as they are nicknamed, are soaking it up. In a few years, they’ll be very good. Senegal is a football country but basketball isn’t far behind. They can only get better at the sport.

Weakness: If you’ve seen Senegal play, while they have basketball bodies because of their tallness but aren’t built to spin around defenders or even float in for reverse layups. That comes with growing up in the game. I pretty much liken them to India. Basketball jones as I mentioned earlier. Yet in spite of their “deficiency,” they nearly pipped us. Now how they respond to 25,000 screaming Filipinos is anyone’s guess.  

NCAA Season 91 Women's Volleyball Finals: Looking at the San Sebastian Lady Stags’ Game Three victory

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Looking at the San Sebastian Lady Stags’ Game Three victory
by rick olivares

The San Sebastian Lady Stags announced their delayed entry into the Season 91 Women’s Volleyball Finals by taking Game Three in straight sets and sending the series to a fourth and deciding match on Thursday.

How did they turn things around?

No special strategies, just an aggressive attack and a better commitment to playing defense.
In Game Two, Baste fell behind in three of the four sets and had to play catch up. For Game Three, they pretty much led all throughout. In my Game Two analysis, for all of Grethcel Soltones’ ton of points, they have a more varied attack with combination plays and back row attacks; none of which is in Benilde’s arsenal. 

Their serve was better giving Benilde all sorts of fits as they couldn’t receive. Poor receiving translates into fewer quality sets, more turnovers, and more free balls.

Soltones wasn’t an army of one even if she scored 31 points. Katherine Villegas added 11 while Nikka Dalisay and Joyce Sta. Rita added 8 points apiece. Denice Lim, a surprise starter played well especially in the latter stages as she began to hit the ball with more resolve en route to 6 points. She never came off the court and late in the match, Baste head coach Roger Gorayeb fielded Dangie Encarnacion who was fresh and gave her side much needed scoring sock. Despite playing only in the final set and not starting at that, she managed six points, same as her Game Two output. But she was more focused this time around. Quality and timely sub.

Vira Guillema fewer sets (12 to her 15 in Game Two) but she compensated by committing fewer turnovers and played better defense. There were several occasions where she set up Soltones thrice in succession after getting initially blocked but more often than not, they scored. 

A smaller rotation for Baste but it worked out quite well.

Defensively, the Lady Stags attempted 50 blocks; a much better stat than the 37 they managed in Game Two. Their floor defense was better with fewer holes in the back. 

Was Grethcel Soltones buoyed by her sudden reunion with her mother?
According to Coach Roger Gorayeb, no. And I agree. Grethcel always plays this way — buoyant, exuberant, and an all-around force. And the league’s back-to-back MVP did everything once more — serve, hit, receive, set up a teammate, block. The difference was her teammates helped out and when they needed a point, more often than not, Soltones scored.

During Game Two, a CSB team official would tell his team that the Lady Stags and Soltones were tiring. Not true. Soltones is built to play long sets and matches. As I said in my post-Game Two analysis, for San Sebastian to get in the game, they need the others to contribute. That is what happened.

After the Lady Blazers forced a fourth set, the Lady Stags didn’t collapse. They just went out and executed their game plan consistently. 

Is it possible that the CSB Lady Blazers were overconfident?
I don’t think so. Maybe jittery in closing out the series. The aggressive tone of San Sebastian from the start had CSB collectively reeling. The Lady Stags gave them a dose of their own medicine after they had to rally time and again in Game Two. Game Three showed San Sebastian flush with confidence. 

When you’re aggressive at that net, you also create your own luck. The Lady Blazers were less daring and a tad hesitant. And they paid for it.

Is the momentum with San Sebastian?
Momentum is a slippery slope. You can say that going up, 2-0, all the momentum was with Benilde but they were jumped on by the Lady Stags. So not really. Taking the first set of Game Four would be huge for either squad. If the Lady Stags play the way they did in Game Three, they’ll be tough to stop. 

Now here’s to the Filoil Flying V Arena playing to a packed crowd this Thursday because we’re in for one whopper of a finish.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

San Sebastian & Benilde fans playfully taunt one another during the Women's Volleyball Finals

During Game Three of the NCAA Season 91 Women's Volleyball Finals between College of Saint Benilde -- holding a 2-0 series lead with one more win to go for them -- and the San Sebastian Lady Stags, Coach (in green and obviously rooting for CSB) gets it on with everyone around him (that was the San Sebastian side of the Arena). It was of course, all good natured and in the spirit of fun. It added another dimension to a terrific game won by the Lady Stags to forge a winner-take-all Thursday!

Nganga versus Tahimik ka lang

A couple of pictures from the NCAA Season 91 Men's Volleyball Finals

I took these pics during the final match that was won by the Perpetual Help Altas.

Both teams get ready for the fifth and final set.

Looking at PBA team missing key players in a Finals series

Looking at PBA team missing key players in a Finals series
by rick olivares

Injuries are an unfortunate part of sports. The effects can be debilitating to a team especially when they happen at the most inopportune time and when a team’s most valuable player gets stricken down.

In this current Philippine Cup Finals, the San Miguel Beermen, defending champions were on the verge of being swept by Alaska in four without the injured June Mar Fajardo, the reigning back-to-back Most Valuable Player.

The Beermen summoned enough of their pride to extend the series. If the Beermen can complete the mother of all comebacks remains to be seen. 

However in PBA history, this isn’t the first time where a team’s star was lost for the series. Some teams pulled through; some didn’t. It should be noted that Fajardo is the one player in this list that we have compiled who has missed the entire series thus far.

Let’s take a look at some of these teams.

Presto vs Purefoods. All-Filipino 1990. 
Late in the series with Presto holding a 3-2 series lead in the All-Filipino Conference, Main Man Allan Caidic (who was named that season’s Most Valuable Player) fractured the fourth metacarpal bone in his shooting hand when he tried to poke the ball away from Glenn Capacio but instead hit the Purefoods guard’s hip. The injury ended his conference stint (within a two weeks, he was practicing for the national team). Purefoods took Game Six but in the no-tomorrow Game Seven, Arnie Tuadles stood tall to give the franchise it’s last PBA crown.

Talk ’N Text vs Petron Governors’ Cup 2011.
Heading into the Finals, TNT topped the league with a 9-4 record. Petron Blaze was second best with an 8-5 slate.
Petron’s Arwind Santos nosed out Jayson Castro for the Best Player of the Conference. TNT was going for the Grand Slam. The series was tied 2-2 when Castro sustained a MCL injury. He managed to play in spite of the pain (he clearly was a shade of his former self) but Petron took two of the next three matches to win their 19th league crown while spoiling their corporate rivals’ bid.

Rain or Shine vs B-Meg Governors’ Cup 2011-12
The Elasto Painters booked their first title slot under head coach Yeng Guiao. They took a 1-0 Finals lead against the Tim Cone-coached B-Meg squad. In Game Two, Paul Lee, who would go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award injured his shoulder ending his season. B-Meg leveled the series but RoS went up 3-1 after which the Llamados won the next two to send the championship series to a finals match. In Game Seve, Jamelle Cornely, Jeff Chan, and Gabe Norwood conspired in a comeback to take the game and the title from B-Meg.

Ginebra vs Alaska. Commissioner’s Cup 2012-13.
Heading into the Finals, Ginebra import Vernon Macklin got injured in his right thigh during the crowd favorite squad’s semifinals victory over Talk ’N Text. While Macklin wasn’t the Best Import Come (the award went to Alaska’s Rob Dozier), he was a force of nature for Ginebra. You could say that where he went so did Ginebra. During the finals, he was hobbled and Alaska took advantage of his lack of mobility to squash Ginebra and extend their title drought.

Again, it should be noted that Fajardo has yet to play. Nevertheless, the fate of teams in a Finals series with a key injury has been split. Some find ways to win while for others, it was just too great to overcome.

Five points to take away from Liverpool's sudden death win over Norwich

Five points to take away from Liverpool's sudden death win over Norwich
by rick olivares

In addition to “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Liverpool should add “Never Say Die” to their creed.
There have been four matches this season in all competitions where Liverpool came back to grab a point or take all three.
West Brom 2-2 with Divock Origi scoring in the 90th minute
Exeter 2-2 with Brad Smith levelling in the 73rd 
Arsenal 2-2 with late sub Joe Allen striking at death’s door to rescue the point.
And then there’s the Norwich match where Adam Lallana scored in the 95th to lift Liverpool to a 5-4 victory.

Four come from behind matches to snatch a point or three. 

Furthermore, since Jurgen Klopp took over, Liverpool has scored seven goals after the 75th minute; the most in the league. That means they aren’t ready to roll over and die. The Reds may have a lot of deficiencies at the moment but the never-say-die attitude should serve them well.

Roberto Firmino is rounding out into a scoring force. 
Four goals in the last three matches. Not bad. That should really boost his confidence. With Christian Benteke struggling and Daniel Sturridge still out, Firmino discovering his scoring form is a boon to the goal-thirsty Reds.

Adam Lallana is a keeper.
Of the three Southampton players who signed with Liverpool following the 2013-14 season — Lallana, Rickie Lambert, and Dejan Lovren (and this past off-season, Nathaniel Clyne) — only Lallana seems to have gotten in the good graces of the fans. Lovren started well, fell off the charts, after which he found a rebirth of sorts under Klopp before an injury knocked him out. 

Lambert isn’t with the team anymore.

But Lallana has been a sparkplug supplying creativity, daring, and vision to Liverpool’s game. He came on as a late sub and fired up the team with his pace and derring-do. Not to mention his match-winner of course.

Now if Lallana, team captain Jordan Henderson, and attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho play in harmony to go with a real stud or two up front, they’ll be deadly. Real deadly. 

Two years running, two different managers, their inability to defend set pieces and porous backline have yet to be addressed.
All right. They are wracked by injuries. But I thought they should have plugged those problems by now. Clyne and Kolo Toure have been outstanding while Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno have been inconsistent. Lovren was in poor form at the start of the season, played well when Klopp gave him a chance, but is now injured.

While they need is a top striker who is creative and has a good work ethic, high on the shopping list in this January transfer window is a defender or two. 

That Norwich match had me for the first time questioning what Jurgen Klopp is doing.
You would think following that loss to Manchester United, they’d break out like gangbusters. Instead, they started slow, had no pace, play shambolic defense, and looked like a lesser side. I wondered what kind of preparation they go through. Why did they have to wait until the two-thirds of the match had been played to make adjustments? It took the entry of Lallana to fire them up. 

I understand that keeping that high level of play consistent for the entire season isn’t easy. But how they blow hot and cold sure is mystifying.

All I can say is this team is a work in progress. Unfortunately, expectations are high as well. It never is any less since this is Liverpool. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

Looking at the NCAA Season 91 Women's Volleyball Finals

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Looking at the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Finals
by rick olivares

I was not too surprised when College of Saint Benilde took Game 1 of the NCAA Season 91 Women’s Volleyball Finals in four sets against San Sebastian. I felt that the week-long layoff may have dulled their game shape and that they would bounce back in Game Two. 

But that didn’t happen as CSB took it in four sets.

Much has been said about the Lady Blazers’ height advantage while the Lady Stags were too dependent on Grethcel Soltones. I beg to disagree.

I believe for CSB, as tall as they are and with all due respect to Janine Navarro, Jeanette Panaga, Chelsea Santillan, and Ranya Musa, they live and die with setter Djanel Welch Cheng, who has been the league’s top playmaker two years running. Yet, the Lady Blazers do not run a lot of combination plays. They are a team that gets its points raining down spikes from the wings, quick plays as well as through blocks. In short, they like to play a power game. Another thing I like about them is their confidence. Even during the elimination round, you could see it in their body language from the moment they ran out to the court. They were oozing with confidence. 

A team like SSCR on the other hand doesn’t sweep the eliminations on the strength of one player. It takes a team to win a game much less sweep. While Soltones, the league’s top scorer is their main gun, she gets help from libero Alyssa Eroa, who like the former, will come away with an other set of individual awards. Other contributors include Dangie Encarnacion, Nikka Dalisay, and Joyce Sta. Rita — they just need to step up their game I think they have a little more dynamic attack as they scatter points from the wings, the middle, and the back row. In short, they win as a team and in a variety of ways. The problem isn’t an over-reliance on Soltones but the inconsistency of the others. 

The problem in a prolonged series is that San Sebastian gets exposed. And that is just what is happening.

Let me explain. San Sebastian’s starting six has only two veterans — Soltones and libero Alyssa Eroa. The rest setter Vira Guillema, Sta. Rita, Encarnacion, Katherine Villegas, and Dalisay are relative newcomers in their second year with the team. It must say something about the quality of the team when the other long time veterans in Jolina Labiano, Jonah Corpuz, and Trisha Crisostomo are sitting. While hunger knows no bounds, veteran experience and leadership is a plus. Apparently, they haven’t been performing well. 

Talent and skill are one thing; teamwork is another. On the other hand, veteran smarts, leadership, and experience are just as vital.

Now I thought that losing in last year’s volleyball finals would be a lot of motivation for San Sebastian. Apparently, it isn’t. Walking inside their locker room prior to Game Two, I was surprised to see them on their gadgets texting, surfing, or playing games. While I thought they were loose, I also felt there was a lack of focus. 

Maybe I am too old school but I have seen many a sports team internalize the game to come; focusing on the task at hand. You know -- review game plans and strategies. While much of that is done in practice, I have seen a lot of locker rooms before games and well, I have always felt that using one’s gadgets does show some lack of focus.

Come game time, the Lady Stags, save for the fourth set, started slowly. In the three sets that they lost, they quickly fell behind in a huge hole and came back only once and that was the third set when CSB spotted them an eight-point lead, 15-7. SSCR rallied to even take a 20-19 lead but lapsed again in a series of errors that hurt them. 

The Lady Stags' blocking was abysmal — five block points from the 37 attempts to the 10 of 62 for CSB that shows a commitment for defense for the latter. Blocking isn’t all about height. It also has to do with desire, making good reads, and timing. At times, I thought their feet were nailed to the floor watching as the Lady Blazers rose up in the air for unchallenged attacks. 

The playmaking was spotty with playmaker Guillema blowing hot and cold; playing well in a stretch then her decision making falling apart in another stretch. She was also 1-4 in drop shots. 

On the other hand, I really have to give it to the Lady Blazers. They are on the verge of a fairy tale finish. After the nine-match elimination round, they finished fourth behind SSCR (9-0), Arellano (8-1), and Perpetual Help (7-2) with a 6-3 record. CSB skidded towards the end of the elims but in their step-ladder Final Four, they have since taken down the top seeds winning six sets and losing only one. In the finals, they have lost only two sets and are now poised to turn the tables on San Sebastian.

Mid-way through the elimination round, chatting with SSCR coach Roger Gorayeb who has been title-less in three years as he has not gone more than two years without winning a championship, he said that he thought that CSB would present their biggest challenge. 

I wonder if he wishes he was wrong.