Facing adversity: the BaliPure Water Defenders
by rick olivares
The BaliPure Water Defenders could have possibly turned a page in their Premier Volleyball League campaign if not their short history.
Looking fatigued and out of the game, the Water Defenders were on the ropes against the Creamline Cool Smashers who showed character by showing there’s more to them than Alyssa Valdez who was out with a niggling injury. Alex Cabanos looked like she was going to serve BaliPure into oblivion. Kuttika Kaewpin was overpowering. Jem Galanza was playing like she did two seasons ago with Adamson. Laura Schaudt shut the door on Grethcel Soltones so many times that the latter could have been charged for an attempted break-in.
It was that kind of evening. Excuses could have been made by the Water Defenders.
BaliPure -- let’s be clear about this as Version 2 as this is a radically different team in look, style, and composition from the one that debuted last season – stood up and made things count.
And after a thrilling five-set win (for the second straight playdate) over the Cool Smashers – 20-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-18, 15-7 – BaliPure, with its 7-2 record, secured a semi-finals berth and some rest for a tired team. They just have one last bit of business to take care of this Thursday against the 5-4 Power Smashers.
A lot of club’s face adversity. It isn’t exclusive to BaliPure. This team, however, has a chip on its shoulder. They’ve got a mountain of motivation and something to prove.
The team was cobbled together only a couple of weeks before the season’s opening. In fact, several players only joined them either a day before or weeks after.
Grethcel Soltones, the team captain and one of two remaining original BaliPure players along with libero Alyssa Eroa, is coming off a third consecutive disappointing NCAA campaign. She took home the Most Valuable Player Award yet came away empty handed in terms of championships. Ending her college career with a bunch of bridesmaid’s finishes for San Sebastian. The National University contingent of setter Jasmine Nabor, utility player Aiko Urdas, open hitter Jorelle Singh, and middle hitter Risa Sato are likewise coming off a sensation flop of a UAAP season where they missed the Final Four in a year where they were expected to challenge for the title. Jerrili Malabanan was the odd-player out of the far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws where she went from starter to the far end of the bench. She wasn’t even supposed to join BaliPure but her mother fought tooth and nail to secure a release to play for the Water Defenders. And she seamlessly stepped into BaliPure’s line-up and showed everyone that she can contribute.
There’s head coach Roger Gorayeb who believes he can still conjure some of that championship pixie dust that has evaded him in some time.
And there’s team management too that in their second year had to rebuild from scratch. Seven of their former players are now with the Perlas Spikers while Alyssa Valdez banners Creamline. In rebuilding a decimated squad, Gorayeb and management shrewdly and quietly brought in some impact players.
Lizlee Ann Pantone showed why she is one of the best liberos in the game. Jasmine Nabor’s pick up is huge because a top setter will make it easy for the hitters to get the ball. And there’s Jang Bualee, the Thai reinforcement who when she first came over to the Philippines played for Gorayeb’s San Sebastian team in the V-League. Her familiarity with Gorayeb and Philippine volleyball makes for easier transition. And there’s Jennifer Keddy, the 6’4” former middle blocker from California Polytechnic State University who has shored up a wall that needed quite a few bricks.
In the five-set win over Creamline, the entire team finally came together in the fourth set. Up to that point, Bualee was in the midst of a wretched game. Soltones was oft blocked by Schaudt. The reception became better. The blocking even better. And Risa Sato and Bualee came alive on offense.
It was a massive win. One that could further propel them.
“We’re not yet done tinkering with the team,” said team manager Gil Cortez. “For now this is it. But we’re going to add more competitive pieces in the future.”
While the win over the Cool Smashers buoyed the team, Gorayeb is downplaying his team’s chances. After all, who gave them a ghost of a chance? Pocari Sweat, Perlas Spikers, and Creamline were tagged to compete for the title. Instead, BaliPure is sitting atop the table.
“Wala nang sikreto,” said Gorayeb on the eve of the match versus Creamline. “Everyone knows us now. What we need to do now is play consistently and show na hindi kami fluke.”
Check out the BaliPure locker room videos here (click on the link)