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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Iris Tolenada is living her volleyball dream

This appears on the Monday, November 14, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Iris Tolenada is living her volleyball dream
by rick olivares

The former cheerleader and basketball player is on the verge of leading the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors to their second Shakey’s V-League championship of the season. However, for Iris Tolenada, a win will be her first. Nevertheless, it is quite a thrill.

You see, her father, Ingemar, played volleyball for the Far Eastern University Tamaraws from 1977-80. When the elder Tolenada moved to the US and raised a family there, he tried to get his sons into the game but they were not responsive. His two daughters though, had his eye and ear.

However, it was Iris who plunged herself wholeheartedly into the game. “Before volleyball I was a competitive youth cheerleader as well as a basketball player,” she related. “But when I discovered volleyball I just had so much more fun. My dad tried to get my older brothers into volleyball, but it was my older sister Ingrid who really wanted to play. Honestly I really followed my sister’s footsteps. When I had no clue about the sport, she asked her coaches if I could just be an extra body at practice and she and my dad taught me the skills. Even now when my Ate and I are together, we will grab a volleyball and just play pepper in or outside of the house.”

After playing for the San Francisco State University Gators from 2009-2013, Iris played professional volleyball in the States for one year.

“My parents were actually the ones who encouraged me to play in the Philippines,” revealed Iris. “Back home whenever I came home from work, I’d see them watching Philippine volleyball on the TV and I would just join them.”

A couple of years later, Iris suited up for Philips Gold (the former name of Pocari Sweat) where she won a Best Setter Award.

Although in this current Reinforced Conference of the Shakey’s V-League, Tolenada is the third best setter after the preliminaries, she doesn’t mind at all. Her eyes are on the big prize – a championship.

“To have this opportunity to win another title with Pocari feels amazing and unreal at the same time. Everyone is so excited and so determined to win this for God and for each other. At the end of the day the team who wins isn't going to be the team that wants it more, but the team that helps each other and is able to makes the little plays in every point.”

With the Lady Warriors, Tolenada has not only set up her teammates very well, she has played exceptional defense with the occasional flair for the dramatic. During an earlier match with the Laoag Power Smashers, Iris dove to the floor for a pancake save. Teammate Shishi Dadang kept it alive and the ball went back towards Tolenada who was still on her knees. She sent the ball towards Laoag’s backrow where shockingly, the Power Smashers’ Jorelle Singh mis-received the ball for a most unlikely point for Tolenada and the Lady Warriors.

“That has to be one of the plays not only of the tournament but also of the entire season,” later gushed color commentator Boom Gonzalez.

That aggressiveness has served Tolenada in good stead. She is the third best scoring setter right after BaliPure’s Kaylee Manns and Laoag’s Chie Saet. “I've always trained to be an all-around setter who's aggressive,” said Iris who admits to enjoy watching volleyball legends and stars such as the beach duo of Misty May and Keri Walsh-Jennings, Stanford All-American setter Madi Bugg who is now a good friend of hers, former US national team outside hitter Cassidy Lichtman, current US national players Foluke Akinradewo and Courtney Thompson, and former US outside hitter Logan Tom.

“I'm very fortunate that my parents kept me very in touch with my culture, and my favorite thing about being Filipino is that we have the biggest hearts and smiles,” related Iris.

When this Reinforced Conference of the 13th season of the Shakey’s V-League ends, Tolenada will fly back to the United States where she will return to her various volleyball coaching duties. “Back home I also coach volleyball. I coach at the Stanford University and San Francisco State University summer camps. I also had the amazing opportunity to be an assistant coach at Santa Clara University in California for the 2015-2016 season. In addition to coaching at SCU, I coached two competitive high school traveling teams at Vision Volleyball club. This past club season I took on my first head coaching gig with a 16 & under team, and will be assistant coaching the 18 & under team for the fourth time this upcoming season.”

“I also went to Stanford skills camps and played for great coaches in the teams I played for. Each coach made sure all of us can do every skill proficiently and I'm so grateful for all of my training. My high school coach always told me ‘You don't need to be big to be great, you just have to play big.’ And that's something I've always been inspired by.”

“We feel like we can get through anything together,” summed up Tolenada of her squad. “I think the bond we have with each other off the court translates to our chemistry on the court.”

And that will be tested as Tolenada and the Lady Warriors will have to deal with the inspired and rising Bureau of Customs Transformers who are led by Alyssa Valdez. The Transformer upset BaliPure in the semi-finals to arrange the winner-take-all year-end series. And the best-of-three finals begins today, Saturday, November 12, at the Philsports Arena.

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