MANILA, Philiippines—Football owes its resurgence to the poster-boy-heavy national team Azkals, whose collection of chiseled demigods created shrieking interest in the sport. Volleyball never had a flagship game or a popular ambassador to rally around—until now.
The women’s game changed the outlook for volleyball. It created pinup girls for the sport, fan favorites who draw as much public attention as other sporting stars.
“If people recognize the players, then it means they watch the game,” said Ateneo’s Fille Saint Cainglet, easily one of the most recognizable faces of the V-League.
(INQSnap the front page to view a gallery, as well as zoomable PDF posters, of some of the top stars.)
Much of the rise in the popularity of women’s volleyball comes from the V-League, the brainchild of a group called Sports Vision, whose main founders—Ricky Palou, Moying Martelino and the late former Philippine Basketball Association commissioner Jun Bernardino—ironically had deep roots in basketball.
The Shakey’s V-League gave collegiate stars, who already had their own cult following in their respective schools, a mainstream audience to showcase their skills to.
“It was Shakey’s that showed faith in women’s volleyball,” said Gretchen Ho, Cainglet’s equally popular Ateneo teammate.
The players felt the tournament’s impact immediately.
“I was surprised when people came to watch us play,” said Suzanne Roces, the former star of the San Sebastian volleyball varsity program, speaking of her early days in the V-League. “Before, the only people who would watch us play were our schoolmates.”
Roces, Cainglet and Ho are just part of the stable of stars that the V-League has produced. University of Santo Tomas’ Mary Jean Balse and Angeli Tabaquero, Ateneo’s Charo Soriano and Alyssa Valdez, Far Eastern University’s Rachel Anne Daquis, La Salle’s Michelle Carolino and Adamson’s Angela Benting have also crossed over to mainstream consciousness because of the Shakey’s tournament.
Daquis, for instance, is slowly making her own name in the modeling world.
And where these girls go, so goes women’s volleyball.
While the V-League gave the collegiate stars and the sport even more popularity, it was a college game that amplified that popularity.
It was a no-bearing match of the University Athletics Association Philippines (UAAP) but the fact that the sport’s rise collided with the country’s fiercest rivalry created a supernova of sorts. La Salle and Ateneo battled in front of 19,000 screaming fans at MOA Arena on March 7, producing even more stars, especially from the La Salle side.
La Salle eventually won the UAAP crown.
The likes of Michelle Gumabao, Abi Marano, Ara Galang and the spunky Mika Reyes became household names and really helped the sport orbit into uncharted territory in terms of popularity.
“The rivalry really helped add to the hype for women’s volleyball,” Ho said in a television interview.
On Sunday, volleyball received another boost when National University scored a vengeful 26-24, 25-23, 25-22 victory over Ateneo at MOA Arena, to force a sudden death for the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 First Conference crown.
In a way, it’s like a circle of life for the sport. The V-League harnessed the skills of the players after college, marketed the sport and raised the level of interest in the sport. College leagues continue to manufacture stars to feed the V-League machine.
All that makes women’s volleyball the newest sporting sensation in the country.