It’s really not surprising that over 19,000 fans filled the Mall of Asia Arena last Saturday for a volleyball game.
First, it was La Salle versus Ateneo in the second round of the UAAP classification round. There’s no need to explain the rivalry between these two schools that battle over almost everything.
Their women’s volleyball teams have now joined the fray with the Lady Archers enjoying the edge in championship experience and personnel.
La Salle no longer groped for rhythm like it did in the first-round game at the Flying V Arena in San Juan. Back then, Ateneo snatched the first two sets but could not hold on without an injured Fille Cainglet, who sprained her ankle during the game.
La Salle’s Wall of Green stood strong and coach Ramil de Jesus’ deft substitutions in the last three sets carved out the win.
In the second encounter, La Salle did not waste time as it shut out the Loyola side in three sets in front of a crowd that outnumbered most basketball games at MOA Arena. The Lady Archers are determined to defend the crown they won last year against their Katipunan-based rivals and have already earned the first twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
UAAP and ABS-CBN officials were already considering the second encounter to be held at the larger MOA after the game in San Juan. Hundreds were turned away at Filoil Flying V Arena while those who managed to get in were tightly packed together.
It is not certain if the league would play again at MOA Arena and it most likely would depend if the Lady Archers and Lady Eagles do meet again in the finals. UST versus La Salle could also pack it in given their fierce rivalry in this division through the years.
The Shakey’s V-League keeps women’s volleyball in the limelight during the off season of the UAAP games and must be credited for increasing the popularity of the sport. Its thrice-weekly schedule featuring school-based teams are all featured on TV on a delayed basis initially and then later on a same day telecast scheme with the AKTV group.
The social-network compliment to the V-League also helped and many of the teams followed suit by maintaining Facebook accounts of their own. This created a fan base larger than the communities of the schools in the UAAP or V-League.
In the first La Salle-Ateneo game, there were pockets of fans who cheered for both schools. Insiders at Filoil Flying-V Arena whispered to me that they were not students of either university but were fans of the teams.
The players have tried their best to maintain contact with their fans. This, aside from the V-League exposure and ABS-CBN’s TV schedule, keep volleyball fans well-fed and happy.
Volleyball does not attract only females but all genders. Many can identify with the sport, especially those who avoided the bruising contact of football or basketball or were rejected by ruthless tryouts or selfish hoop groups.
We are slowly developing other sports to become audience delights. Basketball need not worry about its popularity because it’s very secure despite occasional TV ratings dips and unpredictable poor gate turnouts, especially during classification phases.