A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
It felt eerily familiar; two distinct types of decibels going at each other at full speed. The cheers, the jeers, old bald men cussing the air, the drums and the vibrations it brought forth magnified the stark contrast between green and blue. It was Ateneo-LaSalle for the nth time and the ever-reliable The Arena in San Juan was registering seismic trembling. But it wasn’t basketball. It was Game 3 of the UAAP Season 74 Women’s Volleyball Finals between familiar foes from Taft and Katipunan. The first were the defending champs while the latter were enjoying the culmination of a mountain climb to relevance over the past few years.
As you may know, DLSU won Game 3 and the championship. The La Sallians had just too much length and athleticism for the Lady Eagles. They exhibited confidence backed by championship experience and talent while the Ateneans projected faces of confusion and maybe fear, proving that they needed one more year. The Lady Archers seemed like surgeons about to perform a routine operation —– been there, done that.
But the day was bigger than the back-to-back feat DLSU accomplished, or its budding rivalry with its ultimate nemesis. Game 3, the Finals series, showed that UAAP Women’s Volleyball has officially arrived like the NBA’s OKC Thunder.
For former UST standout and current volleyball analyst Mozzy Ravena, the recently concluded championship series proved a lot of things. For one, women’s volleyball has never been more popular, “Volleyball has been getting a lot of following since 8 years ago when the Shakey’s V-League started. It televised all its volleyball games with three conferences a year, which meant almost all year round,” Kiefer Ravena’s mom shares. “At the start, most of the following were from the provinces, then in the UAAP it was school-based, but now it’s mixed with fans from all over.”
Mozzy says that because of volleyball’s greater following these days schools are now giving importance to winning; and the first step to doing that is having a good recruiting program. Take for example the ADMU Lady Spikers who quietly built the second best team in Season 74 over the past few years. Ateneo inch-by-inch went from cellar-dwellers to title-contenders crossing paths with its greatest rival in basketball and bringing the no-love-loss relationship to the volleyball court.
“A new rivalry is born. It used to just be UST vs. FEU.” Mrs. Ravena adds. “Because of the rivalry, there is more awareness that volleyball is an exciting sport which leads to more support from the community and the fans nationwide.”
This burgeoning rivalry if sustained, will definitely fuel the league for years to come but as to any rivalry or any league it’s the players who are the mermaids of the circus. Lakers-Celtics had Magic vs. Bird. Ateneo-La Salle had Tenorio vs. Cortez. It’s Messi vs. Ronaldo in La Liga. The players make the team and the superstars are the league. And it’s now becoming apparent that UAAP Women’s Volleyball has its own superstars who will keep the fan base growing. As long as the fans see enough substance combined with an abundance of pizzazz in these girls, they will keep on coming. According to Mozzy Ravena, that combination has been drawing fans for the past few years, “Personally, I think Filipinos are iconic. Even in sports they like to see personalities, pretty faces and success stories,” Ms. Mozzy who was a multi-titled volleyball player herself with UST explains. “When pretty girls started to play, and play really well, they started to draw fans.”
Pretty girls who can play and interesting characters were on full display in Season 74 and the Finals series. You had Michelle Gumabao of DLSU who was relatively as intimidating as Shaq and who had the angas factor of Mark Cardona. She took on the enforcer role for her team and was seen as a swash buckling, taunting villain by the opponents’ fans. There’s her teammate, Finals MVP Cha Cruz who has a nice combination of timing, length, jumping ability and charming beauty: the prototypical Filipina volleyball superstar. On the other side, you had Lady Eagles captain Fille Cainglet who has Sarah Geronimo-appeal and feline jumping ability to back it up. Then there’s Gretchen Ho —- pretty, unassumingly talented and intense at the same time.
Pinoy sports fans always fall for athletes like these —- athletes with talent, character, and good looks —- attributes that have to be mutually inclusive. They know superstar quality when they see one. They have to be able to relate to the sport and its stars. That’s why they’re like very coy girls; they’re so hard to get. But with a sport as exciting as volleyball and with athletes as interesting as these girls, I don’t see any reason why they won’t let their guard down; in fact, they already have. So it won’t be long until future volleyball stars will be compared to Cha Cruz and Rachelle Ann Daquis; not to celebrities like Shaq and Sara Geronimo.