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, June 17, 2017

BaliPure: A story of a volleyball team Part 1: The Perfect Storm

BaliPure: A story of a volleyball team
Part 1: The Perfect Storm
by rick olivares

It began on a dark and rainy Thursday night. The metropolis had been punished for days with late afternoon downpours that ground the late evening rush hour into a screeching halt as flash floods engulfed the city streets.

Even in the relatively safe confines of a gym, the BaliPure Purest Water Defenders were in the midst of their own personal and maybe, perfect storm.

The Purest Water Defenders were in their final tune-up match before their semi-finals series of the Reinforced Conference of the Premier Volleyball League against the Creamline Cool Smashers. The Petron Tri-Active Spikers, in the midst of their preparations for the Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Cup were playing BaliPure in a five-set practice match at the San Sebastian Gym along Recto, Manila. Not a best-of-three match. Just five whole sets regardless how many sets one wins for both sides to work out the kinks.

The whole week, the Purest Water Defenders seemed to be in a funk. They sauntered from one bad practice to another. No one could hit the ball properly much less receive and dig. Services were even worse. Nothing seemed to go right. Only middle hitter Risa Sato and utility spiker Jerrili Malabanan were the ones who did well enough in all the practices. As a result, the atmosphere got testy. And head coach Roger Gorayeb was at a breaking point.

After Petron’s Mela Tunay served the ball dropped in an open space between three players who all stared at one another as if to ask, “who’s going to receive the ball?”

Point for Petron. Gorayeb blew his top and yanked libero Alyssa Eroa, yelling at her at the top of his voice. “Ikaw ang libero ikaw ang dapat unang kumuha nun!” he thundered. “Kung ayaw mo maglaro ay puwede ka na umuwi.”

Eroa stayed but sobbed by the baseline.

And if things could get any worse, utility spiker Jorelle Singh fell to the court in pain with a sharp cry.

Singh’s shrill cry immediately silenced the gym. Some of the San Sebastian Stags basketball players lingered in the floor above the gym and they too fell quiet.

“Diyos ko,” thought aloud Gorayeb who wondered if things could get any worse. Team officials immediately tended to Singh whose face was contorted in pain. Singh has severely sprained her ankle. The immediate prognosis was that she was going to miss the semi-finals.

“Diyos ko,” once more uttered Gorayeb in disbelief. The week had gone from bad to worse.

The team continued their horrible play in the third set losing by a mile. In the first three sets and part of the fourth set, BaliPure played disjointed when guest players Jang Bualee and Jennifer Keddy were on the floor. When they were rotated out, the team played better prompting Gorayeb to sit them for the half of the fourth and the fifth set.

“The team actually plays better when we’re off the floor,” noted Keddy during a team huddle that had Gorayeb nearly losing his mind.

“Why?” he retorted rather testily. “Why is that so when both of you should elevate the team?” The coach then retreated inside the athletics office of San Sebastian to cool off.

The 6'4 Keddy who hails from Montana, USA, was also battling homesickness. After practice, she would spend her nights at a nearby Starbucks just chatting with her family back home. Once the Reinforced Conference was done, she was to fly back home and stay for a week before flying out to Germany for another tournament. "It's tough," was all she could say of her situation.

BaliPure came alive in the fourth and fifth sets with Malabanan torching a Petron squad that featured many of her teammates from far Eastern University. The Tri-Active Spikers’ head coach was Malabanan’s college coach… Shaq De Los Santos. During the recent UAAP tournament, Malabanan was benched for long periods.

When Gorayeb and BaliPure team management headed by former PBA Rookie of the Year Gil Cortez, tried to sign her along with Gel Cayuna, they arrived at an impasse as De Los Santos didn’t seemed inclined to release both to the second year volleyball club. Instead, he tried to send both to PSL side, Cocolife.

Malabanan’s mother, seething with anger over her daughter’s benching vented her ire on De Los Santos. After FEU officials interceded, Malabanan was BaliPure bound. Cayuna though was sent off to Cocolife.

Malabanan wasted no time is showing her college coach and volleyball fans what they were missing. In the Purest Water Defenders’ first ever PVL match, against tough Philippine Air Force no less, Malabanan was named Player of the Game for BaliPure.

Since then, she’s been a reliable cog in the BaliPure machine.

Yet in this practice match versus Petron, the Tri-Active Spikers took four of the five sets (although BaliPure came alive in the fourth and fifth sets).

The strong late play of BaliPure helped ease the mood of Gorayeb. However, it was the post-practice short talks that settled this team down and fixed their mindset heading towards the semis.

First to speak was Gorayeb who put it in blunt terms that the only way they will win is if they play as a team with everyone doing their part. He keyed on to Keddy who he specifically said he needs her to block regardless if it is in her zone or not. “The girls will look up to you because you are the one who plays internationally and have all this experience,” he underscored. “We need you all to play for each other.”

Team manager Gil Cortez came next and he harped about the adversity the team had gone through. Being abandoned by its former players who all left for the Perlas Spikers and Creamline. “This is an accidental team. A second year team that was built from scratch,” clarified Cortez.

Of the collective chip on the team’s shoulders from their separate failed campaigns in the NCAA and the UAAP not to mention their PVL.

A couple of other teams on the eve of the semis made entreaties to sign Sato and a couple of other players for the next conference – the All-Filipino; a move that greatly angered BaliPure’s management and coaching staff. They had written to the PVL’s officers to censure the teams if not penalize them. It should be in memo form, Cortez demanded, if not the team would wear black armbands come the semi-finals.

The league acquiesced. And rightly so.

Next came the other team manager, Paulo Turno, who added on to Cortez’ points. And lastly, I spoke about seizing the day and not letting failure define them. Their determination to rise about their shortcomings will determine them.

The players were attentive. And the messages sank in.

Team captain Grethcel Soltones posted on her Facebook wall the very next day stating that she got the messages.

That Saturday, June 3, the Purest Water Defenders took on the Cool Smashers. BaliPure looked to take the first set yet bungled their way closing it out as Creamline escaped 25-22.

Midway through the second set, the team found their groove with Keddy coming alive hammering running spikes, returning over-received gifts, and blocking Creamline’s Laura Schaudt and dynamo spiker Kuttika Kaewpin. BaliPure won the next three sets in impressive fashion to take Game One.

“Kaya naman pala,” wondered aloud Gorayeb as Keddy slammed the door shut on Creamline (along with Risa Sato’s superb game).

It was Keddy’s most impressive performance thus far as she scored a game high 24 points including six service aces and five block points. Sato added 13 points and likewise shut down Kuttika.

“If we play like this, no one can beat us,” suggested Gorayeb inside a jubilant BaliPure locker room.

The team roared in unison.

While team flashed its potential, the next game would reveal a team lacking in maturity and mental toughness. And it would eventually tell on their campaign.


Click on the link below for the next part.

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