After the fall: The San Sebastian Lady Stags
by rick olivares
The scene was the locker room of the San Sebastian Lady Stags following their Game Three loss to the Arellano University Lady Altas. For the third straight season, the jubilation that permeated their locker room at the FilOil Flying V Centre following their booking a trip to the championship round had dissipated into what was close to an eerie silence save for the muted sobbing and unspoken words.
Once more, the Lady Stags came away from the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Finals empty handed save for individual awards- star spiker Grethcel Soltones was once more adjudged the league’s Most Valuable Player. Alyssa Eroa was a repeat Best Libero while Vira Guillema bagged her first Best Setter Award. However, the awards didn’t amount to much as the one they dearly coveted eluded them in most cruel fashion.
In the past two years, they earned themselves a thrice-to-beat advantage in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Finals. Two straight years they lost. Last season it was to the College of Saint Benilde while this loss was to the Lady Altas. A nemesis on and off the court in more ways than one.
For many Lady Stags, tears streamed down their faces. Eroa really cried her heart out.
For San Sebastian’s Grethcel Soltones, she was stunned that it was all over. “It was frustrating,” she reflected. “Who would have thought it would happen again? “
Only head coach Roger Gorayeb spoke. No one else.
Late in the match, he railed at his wards. “I had done everything to push my team to win it. I taught them, trained them, encouraged them, scolded them. I really wanted them to win not for me but for themselves. But siguro hindi talaga meant to be.”
After the Game One loss, the Lady Stags wondered if this was the worst kind of déjà vu. Following the Game two loss, their body language said everything… it was all over. And though they fought in the third game, there wasn’t enough.
“It would be one thing to loss to Benilde all over again had they made it, postulated one Lady Stag. “But to loss to another team when we’ve been here three years in a row is shocking and painful.”
Inside the locker room, Gorayeb wished he could give them a trophy for their efforts. “I do not need another championship. It would be nice but I am fine. I have won lots of trophies so much that I can afford to give all of you one each but it would be better if that trophy you took home was something you won.”
The time for talking about the game was done. After all it was all over. Instead, the veteran coach said that he hopes that their inability to win one would not define them and instead help make them better people.
He spoke of the values of hard work that so oft mentioned but rarely understood. He spoke of staying together even years after everyone moved on with their lives. “Reunions are nice,” intoned Gorayeb. “Years from now, it would be nice to talk about the journey in winning a championship. But instead we have moments that are funny, sad, and sometimes, wala lang. But use the lessons learned that you have to push yourselves to accomplish something. That sometimes, we need to make an even greater effort.”
As the Lady Stags managed weak smiles after the goodbyes – Soltones, Denice Lim, and Kate Villegas have all played their last years – they all filed out into the night. There would be no send-off dinner.
The San Sebastian volleyball program, once the proudest if not the most bemedalled, had found itself on hard times. With almost every team putting up a program with recruitment at an all-time competitive high, the Recto-based school found it hard to compete. They have never been a moneyed program. They were just able to get who they wanted and competed. In the past seven years they have found it hard to really recruit. It is a testament to their relative strength and the tenacity of their head coach that they have made the finals in the past three years despite coming up empty handed.
And now because of the K-12 gap, they’ll be hard hit next year with no suitable replacements for Soltones, Lim, and Villegas. “But we’ll just have to grind it out,” promised Gorayeb.
After all the Lady Stags left the locker room, Soltones stayed behind. She apologized to her coach and surrogate father about her not being able to give him a championship in her five years with San Sebastian. She had tasted titles in club volleyball but the one she dearly craved was to win one for her alma mater.
And one last time, the old coach parted with his ward with one last bit of advice. “There will be bigger things for you. Go out and reach for them.”
They shared one more hug and the door to the locker room closed.