I remember when I first fell in love with volleyball: I accidentally switched to an Ateneo-La Salle game and was never the same. For someone who’s naturally geared toward basketball, both as a player and spectator, I just never expected myself to be so hooked on a game that involved girls being airborne while wearing really nice uniforms.
The first thing that grabbed me was the intensity. Girls in competition are truly sights to behold—their focused faces are full of magic. To confess, I was confused at first—only to discover soon enough that volleyball rules were in fact pretty simple (unlike football’s off-side rule, for example). So simple were they that in no time at all, I was already holding my breath throughout the rallies and screaming at the television whenever a point was won or lost.
My first exposure to the Ateneo-La Salle volleyball rivalry ended with La Salle winning the five-set thriller. This was fairly recent and certainly no more than a couple of years ago—Michelle Gumabao of La Salle was, I think, in her sophomore year and I had a huge crush on Ateneo’s Bea Pascual. I remember being so torn—both sides had equally talented (not to mention insanely pretty) players, and at that time, the game was so close that it didn’t matter who won; everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, etc.
This brings me to this season’s first Ateneo-La Salle face-off in January—remember that one? Of course. It was a f***ing golden moment in Philippine volleyball, you guys. I will never tire of re-telling this: That afternoon, La Salle was down by two sets, and went on to win in the fifth set. I MEAN SERIOUSLY. Ain’t reigning champs for nothing, eh? That was arguably my most unproductive afternoon at work, ever, but I regret nothing. Not even the embarrassing all-caps tweets that contained nothing but names and strings of non-words.
Anyway. Their second meeting at the Mall of Asia arena on Feb. 9—the first volleyball game at the venue—gathered more than 19,000 fans who eagerly awaited a repeat of the five-set thriller. The game ended in a three-set sweep by the defending champs. While it was a game very well played, I guess I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t go on longer as La Salle outplayed Ateneo at every juncture.
That said, having both teams play for the UAAP crown is an absolute dream come true. And I expect everything to be beautiful again.
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Group hugs. I love how much teamwork goes into this game and how every point, whether won or lost, ends in a group hug. I understand that it must be a sort of huddle in between serves, but I bet hugs do boost performance. The whole thing makes me wonder why we don’t do that in basketball games. (Disclaimer: I tried doing this with my teammates, and got very strange reactions. Eventually gave up the whole group hug thing altogether.)
(P.S. I recently discovered that you’re actually also allowed to hug your opponents. What is this game, it’s so magical.)
Taunting at the net. Oh man, attitude. Say what you want, but girls and their swagger are just the best things ever. I mean, don’t you just love it when someone comes up with a big block or kill, then when she gets back to the ground she does a little shimmy or that subtler (but equally fierce) across-the-net staredown? True, annoying when it’s against your team, but it feels pretty good when you’re on the winning side. (My favorite in this department: Mika Reyes.)
Bodies on the floor. You gotta love the girls who know how to dig and dive. You know that moment when you almost release the breath you’ve been holding thinking your team’s finally broken a rally only to have the other team’s pesky libero push a fist between the ball and thefloor, thereby keeping the ball alive? Yep. The sensation’s a cross between choking and being kicked in the chest AND YET it feels so damned good. How does volleyball do that, exactly? I don’t know, you tell me. All I know is that when there are too many bodies sliding across the floor, this must be a good game I’m watching.
Women’s (airborne) bodies in motion. People call it ogling, I call it appreciation. Do you know how hard it is to be beautiful while in mid-air (and sweaty)? Yep. Even more awesome? Mid-air adjustments.
Killer spikes and solid walls. Practically the deciding factors of most, if not all, matches. The sort of spikes I love best come from nowhere, really. You don’t see them come from such great heights and before you know it, they’re already landing on the floor with really decisive-sounding thuds. About the same sound your jaw makes when it drops in awe. Yep. (My favorites in this department: Ara Galang and Alyssa Valdez.)
On the other hand, La Salle is currently the league’s top team in terms of blocking—it’s almost like playing with a wall throughout, and I’m absolutely in love with it. Speaking of things I’m in love with: These girls and their really long legs. That is all. (Favorites in this department: Gumabao, Aby Marano, Mika Reyes.
Game faces. You know that face Gumabao pulls when she’s serving, the one where she’s all intense and focused? That’s the one. I love that tense pause between getting ready to hit the ball and actually serving it across the net.
Celebration. I love how visible the players’ reactions are – bless you, UAAP cameramen, for knowing when to zoom in on whom. Apart from the intense joyful hugging, I also love: Sisterly ruffling of hair, outstretched arms reaching for the sky, and the occasional kneeling on the floor.
New vocabulary. A few of my favorite new phrases: Down the line, off-speed, drop ball, back row attack, and (my favoritest)—joust. But only because I enjoy imagining these girls on horses, holding these really long swords. I think.
Editor’s Note: Kate Pedroso, 28, is a researcher at the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Group hugs amaze her like unicorns spitting rainbows and perfect sunsets amaze other people. She still hasn’t succeeded making group hugs after every point a part of the basketball culture.