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, October 19, 2016

Soltones frustrated after Laoag’s loss to UP

This appears in

Soltones frustrated after Laoag’s loss to UP
by rick olivares

After the Laoag Power Smashers went down in three sets to the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons last Monday, October 17, 2016 in Shakey’s V-League play at the Philsports Arena, Grethcel Soltones quickly made her way to her team’s dugout.

She quickly made her way out with a pained look on her face.

Since watching her make her debut with the San Sebastian Lady Stags five years ago, Soltones has radiated joy on the court. Outside Alyssa Valdez, there aren’t many spikers in the women’s game who spike that ball with such punishing force. Soltones is like detonating a backpack nuke on opposing foes. Yet even after losing in consecutive NCAA Women’s Volleyball Finals in the past two years, she always found it in herself to smile or even laugh. Not that the losses didn’t mean anything – they did – but hers is such a buoyant personality that it’s always sunny in Soltonesville.

There was one other time that she openly pouted and that was during Game 3 of the NCAA Finals of 2016 when she went to the bench following sustained poor play. Incredibly, her much maligned teammates engineered a comeback without her. Opposing coach would pooh pooh the Lady Stags as Soltones and not much more. Not even the presence of the league’s back-to-back Best Libero Alyssa Eroa swayed anyone’s opinion about San Sebastian being a one-woman team.

At that moment, San Sebastian head coach Roger Gorayeb chided her and said that one cannot be at the top of their game all the time and when one isn’t, she must support her teammates who were on the floor.

San Sebastian gave it a go and with a chance to win it all, Soltones went back in for the kill. Except her game or even series-long malaise continued. St. Benilde took the crucial match and went on to win their first ever volleyball title in the very next outing.

Soltones though has tasted two championships with PLDT in SVL play last season. But with San Sebastian and BaliPure she hasn’t known much success although she was crowned Most Valuable Player of the last SVL Open Conference with the latter team. After winning her second successive MVP Award in the NCAA last season, she said that she’d trade her individual award for a collegiate championship.

The last year and a half have been a whirlwind ride for the young Cebuana. She was MVP in two leagues, made the Under-23 national team (that included Alyssa Valdez who Soltones idolizes as well), and competed in the Southeast Asian Games. Plus, she was reunited with her long lost mother. “Parang panaginip,” she described what was going on with her life at that time.

What would make it a very nice dream though would be to end her collegiate career with a championship. In a few months’ time, the NCAA Women’s Volleyball tournament holds serve. The Lady Stags are favored to win it but that’s just on paper. They have to show it, want it, and will it.

After transferring from BaliPure to Laoag (that was a surprise to many volleyball watchers), her presence along with libero Eroa and National University outside spiker Jorelle Singh was seen as some huge additions to a team in need of weapons especially with Jema Galanza somewhat erratic in her play and losing Mylene Paat to another team.

Soltones and Singh are experienced and veteran players who are expected to step into the starting six to provide not only firepower but also defense in place of Jovelyn Prado and Wenneth Eulalio. The additions including Aiko Urdas who is Singh’s teammate in NU have given Nes Pamiliar’s side a chance to compete and take it to the next round of the ongoing Reinforced Conference.

But early in the preliminary round, Laoag shockingly lost in five sets to a Bureau of Customs team that was without their two Thai imports. They had BOC on the ropes but still lost. In the fifth set, they totally ran out of steam.

Against UP, they equalized after taking the second set. In the crucial third, they had a chance to take a one-set lead but botched their last two offensives to give the Lady Maroons the advantage. Come the fourth set, the Power Smashers didn’t have much left in the tank. UP won and the Power Smashers, instead of going 4-0 are now at 2-2.  Hence, Soltones leaving in a huff.

“Sayang,” was all Pamiliar could mutter following the defeat.

Now Laoag has three matches left in its schedule. They go up against league-leading UST (4-1) on October 19, tournament favorite Pocari Sweat on Monday, October 24, and dangerous BaliPure on Wednesday, October 26.

At stake is a spot in the knockout rounds.

Here’s where we see if Soltones can lift her team.

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