A volleyball story: Hope, dreams, and heroes for one day.
by rick olivares
It’s championship day, March 8, 2016.
The Rizal Technological University Lady Thunder and the Philippine Merchant Marine School Lady Mariners are competing for the 2017 NAASCU Women’s Volleyball Championship.
It’s a tall task for the latter squad. First they had to get up very early. They left Las Piñas before 6am smack into the early morning traffic. They didn’t want to be late for the finals that was set at the ungodly hour of 8am and on the home court of the two-time defending NAASCU champions, RTU.
The defending champions are without last season’s Most Valuable Player Zairyll Sky Chavez who missed the semi-finals because of abdominal pain. Although dressed for the occasions, she sitting this one out says Lady Thunders head coach Edgar Barroga. Besides. He’s still got plenty of weapons to battle PMMS.
It’s actually a David-versus-Goliath story.
RTU is not only taller and more athletic but they have the benefit of a program. Their utility spiker, Porcia Lim, was found all the way in Aklan. Rookie middle blocker Maerci Joyce Del Monte at six-foot-one is like a wall unto herself. All of PMMS’ middle hitters literally look up to her. The Lady Thunder dropped one match all season long but in the one-match finals, they are the heavy favorites; Chavez or no Chavez.
The Lady Mariners are shorter and all conscripted from their college’s intramurals competition. They were the one undefeated team heading into the finals but that doesn’t matter now. “We hope to give them a good fight,” softly says head coach Robert Buenamente. They arrive dressed in their game uniforms. The last thing they want to di get dressed inside the poor excuse of a toilet that even from a distance assaults one’s olfactory senses.
When the Lady Mariners arrive at the RTU Gym along busy and traffic-choked Boni Avenue, much to their surprise the RTU Blue Thunder men’s basketball team is practicing! While the extra time affords the PMMS squad some time to rest from their trip, a delayed finals can mess up your focus.
True enough, when the finals starts one hour after the original time, the Lady Mariners look disoriented. They quickly fall behind 17-10 because of faulty reception and equally woeful attacks. Buenamente sues for time. “Kung ayaw niyo lumaban, i-forfeit na lang natin at umuwi na tayo.”
His girls respond and they rain down aces and attacks against a bewildered RTU side. Despite the early time, the RTU Gym is closed to packed with home side fans. The only ones who are rooting for the Lady Mariners are their men’s counterparts who will be playing the defending RTU men’s team right after.
The Lady Mariners silence the crowd as they take the first set, 30-28, as Mary Grace Rañola, who stands about 5’7” smashes the ball through the wall of Del Monte and Monique Guia.
A RTU official arrives between the first two sets, ambles over to shake Barroga’s hand. “Atin na ‘to,” he says.
“Natalo kami first set,” Barroga sheepishly answers. The RTU official looks shocked and mutters an expletive under his breath after he looked at the scoreboard.
“Believe lang,” intoned Buenamente.
Unfortunately for them, RTU wakes up and they blitz PMMS over the next two sets, 25-14 and 25-9 behind the blocking and quick hits of Joy Onofre and the devastating serves of Porcia Lim who serves 12 straight times – including three aces – all for points. One fan up in the stands is so carried by RTU’s dominance that he does high kicks like one of the world-famous Rockettes sending fellow fans in a frenzy some of who follow his lead.
In the fourth set, the Lady Mariners suddenly come alive and look to extend the match to a fifth set when they lead 12-7 behind the superb game of Anne Bañas who topscored for her team with 17 points.
After his side quickly fell behind because of the renewed spirits of PMMS, Barroga stands up next to his bench. He would remain standing for the rest of the game. “Spacing niyo sa depensa,” he yells.
Hope fills the air for the small PMMS contingent when Lady Thunders team captain Clarisse Cabrera serves her second consecutive ace to give her team a 20-19 lead. But that was it. PMMS would not score another point as Barroga calls from the bench Jona Gameng; his magic bunot.
She holds serve including two aces as RTU wins, 25-20, to clinch their third consecutive NAASCU Women’s title. The Lady Thunder celebrate by their bench as the Lady Mariners huddle at center court and burst into tears.
“Second year in a row kami nabigo,” laments Bañas who wipes away her tears. She has one more playing year. She would make the NAASCU Mythical Selection but would later opine that she’d rather win a championship for her team and her school.
“Siguro para sa karamihan sa amin, ito na yung highlight ng career namin sa volleyball,” Bañas later shared. “Dream namin lahat na makapaglaro sa UAAP, sa V-League, or sa PSL,” she stops unsure of what to say next. “Wala. Dream lang.”
Over at the victorious side, Onofre and Lim are ecstatic. They have one more year to play and to continue their dynasty.
It’s a dynasty that no one knows. In fact, there are only two sportswriters present and zero television coverage.
They echo what Bañas said earlier.
|RTU's Porcia Lim and Joy Onofre.|
“Siyempre, nangangarap kami na makapaglaro sa best na liga,” shares Onofre who looks like she could play for a NCAA or UAAP team. She’s quick, plays defense, and has an excellent attitude towards the game. “Pinapanood din namin mga UAAP, V-League, at PSL sa TV. Fans din kami. Nangangarap rin kami. Sana… pero pangarap lang.”
“Ako taga-Aklan ako,” reveals Lim. “Love ko yung volleyball. Na-recruit ako rito para makapaglaro at makapag-aral. Siyempre meron dream na makapag-laro pero kung wala. Okay na rin ito. Nakapag-aral tapos meron din kaming championship.”
Following the awarding ceremony, some fans spill over to the court and ask for selfies from the Lady Thunders. The girls oblige. At least here in their own corner of the world, they are heroes. Even for just one day.