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.

Monday, June 19, 2017

BaliPure: The Story of a Volleyball Team Part 2: The Cavaliers Conundrum and going KD

The BaliPure Purest Water Defender post-Game 2 Finals win.

BaliPure: The Story of a Volleyball Team
Part 2: The Cavaliers Conundrum and going KD
by rick olivares

“Where can I watch the NBA Finals? It’s Game 2!”

Jennifer Keddy’s forehead was knotted in concern. There was no cable television in her condo room. Worse, no wifi.

“Ugh,” she sighed. “Where do I go?”

Not only was the former Cal Poly Mustang a huge fan of volleyball but she was also nuts about basketball. Although she hails from Missoula, Montana (her family now makes their home in California), she roots for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Some eight thousand miles away from home and after spending months overseas playing in Europe and now in Asia, there were some things that kept her sane and well, feeling that taste of home. Basketball was one of them.

In the midst of the NBA Finals, the BaliPure Purest Water Defenders were 1-1 in their semi-finals series with the Creamline Cool Smashers in their semi-finals series. They socked it to Creamline in Game One then fell in the next match stalling their march into the finals. BaliPure won the even numbered sets but lost all three odd-numbered sets that saw the series knotted at a game apiece.  

Game Two was a letdown. BaliPure started out well then stepped off the gas pedal allowing Creamline to snatch the first set. And it was the same in the third and fifth sets, take the lead then give up points due to errors in bunches, rally from a deficit but only to fall short.

In the biggest game of BaliPure’s two-year history and a chance to better the two third place finishes the previous season, Keddy was worried about the NBA Finals and her Cavs.

“Oh, we’ll bounce back in Game Three. I know it,” she said with a lot of conviction.

True enough, BaliPure bushwhacked Creamline to the tune of three sets. It was a clinic the purest Water Defenders put out there as they silenced the huge Creamline crowd. Keddy and Grethcel Soltones each scored 13 points while Jang Bualee and Risa Sato both added 10 each. They put back that wall that stymied the awesome Kuttika Kaewpin and Laura Schaudt and kept Alyssa Valdez mostly silent (she scattered her 13 points across three sets).

BaliPure was going to the finals against the defending champions, Pocari Sweat. As for Keddy’s Cavs, they were down, 3-0.

When the Cavaliers took Game Three from the Golden State Warriors on the 10th of June, it was the same day as BaliPure lost the Reinforced Conference Finals to Pocari in four sets.

BaliPure took the first set then fell apart in the next three.

Although they took the first set, the body language of the players was bad. And conspicuously absent was middle hitter Risa Sato.

The team managers and coaching staff were worried about Sato. Since she was approached by officials from two other squads who played in the semi-finals to sign with them after the end of the first conference, she wasn’t the same player. The pretty Fil-Japanese player seemed bothered and confused. Every player save for Sato had re-signed with the club for the next conference. This left the coaches and team managers angry.

During game one, she sulked in one corner and covered her head in a towel after her poor play. Her general malaise infected everyone and the team looked nothing like the juggernaut that assaulted teams during the preliminaries ad the semi-finals.

Sure they were playing the defending champions. Sure Krystal Rivers was as good as advertised. But the team’s dip in play was shocking.

The Lady Warriors, in addition to their championship pedigree, was made up of mostly seasoned veterans many of who have been out of college for a while now. Only Jeanette Panaga was still in school. For the Purest Water Defenders, aside from their imports, it was only Lizlee Ann Pantone who was done with school. However, that wasn’t an excuse. “We had our chances,” lamented head coach Roger Gorayeb. “It still isn’t over. There is still Game Two. If you play the way you should then we can win the championship.”

“Maybe it’s best that Cleveland lost,” quipped Keddy. “when they lose we play well. I know it’s an awkward thing for me to say but it is what it is.”

Then Keddy paused, “Time to go into KD (Kevin Durant or a play on her surname) mode.”

Like Cleveland or Golden State, one player wasn’t going to win it. If the Purest Water Defenders were to bring home the trophy, they needed more than Keddy or “KD” as she called herself on game day. They needed BaliPure’s version of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry to step up. And that meant Grethcel Soltones, Risa Sato, and Jang Bualee.

Bualee is the longest serving import in Philippine club volleyball. Since she made her debut with Gorayeb’s San Sebastian Lady Stags all those years ago. The Thai player has romped away with two Most Valuable Player awards, six scoring titles, and a few titles here and there.

At 34, Bualee looks lean and in shape. Yet a shoulder injury during Game Two in the Creamline series hampered her effectivity. Just hitting the ball hurt. “Matanda na ako,” she said in Filipino which she speaks reasonably well. “Pero I want to play and win pa while I can.”

Bualee has served as this team’s mother hen. She spices up team practices with her concoctions for mango dips and other foods. She looks out for the younger players and dispenses advice. “Matagal na ako kay coach Roger,” she puts it. “Responsible lang tayo.”

Now if BaliPure wanted to extend the series, they needed a very good response from Bualee.

Come game time, Keddy pointed to her heart and then her temple. “KD mode,” she paused. “Is in here.”

Keddy and Bualee delivered as promised with each scoring 20 points. So did Soltones, Jerrili Malabanan, and Sato who was her usual buoyant and smiling self. Keddy and Sato registered 10 block points between themselves.

After the game, team manager Gil Cortez patted Sato on the shoulder. “See what happens when you play well,” he said as the middle hitter beamed back.

However, the win revealed BaliPure’s flaw. The Purest Water Defenders won in five sets. They lost sets two and three despite going up by two each time, 24-22. They failed to close it out. Yet in set four and five, in the same position needing only a point to win it, they managed to do so.

Whether they turned a corner was anyone guess. But inside the locker room, I made sure to mention the predilection to give up leads and not close sets or games out. “We cannot afford to step off the gas pedal,” I said to the team.

“I’d like Cleveland to win, you know,” said a happy and relieved Keddy as the team made its way out of the Philsports Arena. “But I’d like to win too.”

Even if the Cavs don’t win the championship?

“Yep. This is for the team (BaliPure) and for myself.”


READ PART 1 here

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