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, April 23, 2017

Welcome BaliPure Version 2.0

BaliPure Version 2.0
by rick olivares

Welcome to the BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

Practice isn’t held at the Blue Eagle Gym. Instead it’s 15 kilometers away at the San Sebastian Gym along the University Belt in Manila.

These Water Defenders have some familiar faces. Former outside hitter Grethcel Soltones and libero Alyssa Eroa are back. Both were a part of the very first BaliPure squad after which they decamped for the Laoag Power Smashers in last year’s season-ending conference. They’re back now along with team managers Gil Cortez and Paulo Turno but that’s about it.

If you’re looking for an Ateneo connection because the old ones were dripping with it. well, there a few traces left.

Aside from the team owner, Tito Panlilio, who once played for the Blue Eagles in the NCAA, and Cortez nearly suited up for the Blue Eagles, and Turno who went to college at the Ateneo de Manila…. there’s the new head coach is the former Lady Eagles mentor, Roger Gorayeb. That’s it.

On a rainy Friday night, the new Water Defenders are engaged in drills at the San Sebastian Gym. When they practiced in Ateneo, it was under all those championship banners won by their basketball teams. While San Sebastian has its own championship pedigree in basketball with 12 NCAA seniors crowns, the ones that dominate the school’s athletic history are their men’s and women’s volleyball teams.

The other banners listing the titles won by the school’s varsity squads have been taken down for the moment. The only one up that Friday night was their women’s volleyball squad – 24 championships. But none since the 2010-11 season. They lost in the last three finals.

It’s a reminder both good and bad for BaliPure’s Gorayeb, Soltones, and Eroa who ended up on that losing side. They aren’t alone as Gorayeb’s BaliPure players from National University – Aiko Urdas, Jorelle Singh, Jasmine Nabor, and Risa Sato are still fresh from their poor UAAP outing.

“Motivation to for all of us,” succinctly put Soltones. “We all have to move on from our difficulties and lowest moments. Ganyan naman ang life, it gives you opportunities na makabawi.”

The team is nowhere a finished product. There are a couple of players from the University of Batangas trying out. They either play the open or utility position. The shoo-ins seem to have locked down those spots – Soltones, Urdas, and Singh. They have a top setter in Nabor who will forego surgery on her knee until after the conference. They have some two darn good liberos in Lizlee Ann Gata and Eroa. The middle position will find Risa Sato and Macy Mendiola but that’s it so far. And the team (as of Friday) still did not have its imports.

A planned team building session was scrapped because the team isn’t complete yet and it defeats the purpose.

“Building a team is a challenge,” said Turno while taking in the practice from a nearby desk. The assistant team manager was referring to the constant line-up changes. During the first conference, the Water Defenders’ offense was Soltones, Dzi Gervacio, and Alyssa Valdez. By the third conference, Valdez was with the Bureau of Customs squad and Soltones with Laoag. Now, Gervacio is with the Perlas Lady Spikers as is almost the entire former BaliPure roster.

“Previously, we weren’t too engaged in the formation of the team aside from sponsoring it. Without our former team, we’ve had to do everything ourselves,” clarified Turno. “Birth pains. So we build on this.”

The Water Defenders twice placed third last season.

This year, the expectations are a little different.

“Hindi naman kami all-star team like Pocari,” noted Gorayeb. “We were only organized a few weeks ago and we still do not have a complete line-up. Work in progress kami. Siyempre, lalaban kami. Ayaw naman namin magpabugbog. Pero it also depends sa imports na makukuha. Kung all-Filipino, eh, may laban. But in an import-laden tournament, mahirap unless you get the right one.”

For Soltones who won the Most Valuable Player Award for BaliPure’s maiden conference, the Open Conference, it’s an exciting challenge. “We’re like a new team with a few veteran and young players. For us to challenge, we hope that the imports we get will help out. For me though, opportunity. Am happy to be back in BaliPure and to play with other players like Jasmine Nabor who showed what she could do last year.”

For Nabor, BaliPure is her first club squad. After a disappointing end to National University’s UAAP season, she’s hoping for a good PVL tournament to erase the stigma. “Ayoko na mag-isip ng mga nangyari. Siyempre, disappointing. Pero good vibes na lang. Alam ko na hindi madali so manage expectations and work hard lang. Pero exciting.”

“If we had the old team together, we can build on the pair of third place finishes. But this is an entirely different team. Building from scratch. So we take it from there,” summed up Turno.

It’s a rainy night in Manila, Friday night. But if you listen closely to the sounds emanating from the six floor, the players are hollering during practice. They’re working to get into game shape and into mental shape as some try to shed any memories of recent ill fortune.

Different but same team. Different but the same old challenges. That’s it.

Welcome the 2017 BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

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