As everything came together for Cignal HD in one magical fortnight, all Jovelyn Gonzaga—who had played 15 grueling sets in a span of three days—had in mind was to keep on going.
After tearfully hugging fellow ringleader Rachel Anne Daquis on Thursday night, all Gonzaga wished was for the road to keep stretching so she could soldier on.
She can’t even explain why.
“Passion, maybe,” she said in Filipino in a nationally televised interview.
“I don’t want to stop [playing]. I don’t want to stop because I love the sport,” she said, her train of thought interrupted by an uncontainable sob. “I am not complete without volleyball.”
Lest anyone be misled, Cignal’s two-game dethroning of Petron, which put the HD Spikers in the finals of the Philippine Superliga All-Filipino conference, wasn’t the sole handiwork of Gonzaga.
And it certainly won’t be just Gonzaga that F2 Logistics, the powerhouse squad in the opposite side of the finals court, should worry about when the best-of-three series kicks off on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Daquis, who has regained some of the spotlight she used to own, is on a rejuvenation of sorts. Alohi Robins-Hardy was a pillar in the semifinals. Roselyn Doria, Jannine Navarro, Ranya Musa, Mylene Paat and Jheck Dionela also had their moments as Cignal cracked the finals of a PSL tournament for the first time in franchise history.
But there’s a sense that Gonzaga invested the most in the semifinals against Petron.
She was key in the win against Petron on Tuesday, a five-set victory that forced Thursday’s encounter. And Gonzaga had a Wednesday to take care of.
PacificTown-Army, her Premier Volleyball League club, faced the young and athletic Flying Titans of Choco Mucho. Gonzaga spearheaded another five-set win, one where both teams battled ferociously in an 80-point first set of a match that took 166 minutes to finish.
“I just want to play,” the 27-year-old hitter said Wednesday.
She got her wish about 24 hours later. Daquis helped get Cignal going, a sign that Gonzaga was not going to be gassed out in her third straight match day.
“I know that she gets inspired when I play well,” said Daquis, whose 43-point output—and all-around panache—in two games against Petron reminded everyone what she was still capable of.
“We draw strength from each other,” Daquis said. Fans have coined a portmanteau for the two stars: “GonzaQuis.”
Indeed, Gonzaga stepped up, leaping for crucial kills with utter disregard for a knee that had already been hit by injury.
Gonzaga once said she had to overcome “voices” in her head reminding her “not to push too hard” to keep her knees safe.
The enlisted Armywoman scored a total of 27 crucial points combined in the twin knockout punches Cignal delivered against Petron and threw in 24 more for Army in the marathon against Choco Mucho.
It was a three-game stretch that drew praise from her peers—volleyball megastar Alyssa Valdez at one point tweeted “Pure heart and hard work!! @JOVZKIE08”—and from those of another discipline.
“You play one five-setter, it’s already tiring,” said Kiefer Ravena on Friday after Gilas Pilipinas’ exhibition match against the visiting Adelaide 36ers. “But you know she’s mentally tough; she’s served the country through the national team and the army.”
“She’s been out for quite a while, almost 2 years, with injury [and] she’s just catching up for lost time. I’m proud to call her my kababayan.”
Robert Bolick, also a member of the Gilas pool, was also in awe of Gonzaga’s performance.
“You have to give it to her,” Bolick, the NorthPort rookie in the PBA, said. “She worked hard and they managed to dethrone Petron. And [what she did was] not easy because coming from an injury that takes time to heal, sometimes you think that you don’t know how to play anymore.”
“I’m happy for her because I saw her when she was rehabbing at Moro [gym] and [F2 Logistics captain] Aby [Maraño] and I consider her a friend,” added Bolick.
“But of course, I’ll be rooting for F2,” he said with a smile.
Can the “Bionic Ilongga” lead her teammates to more glory?
“When we first landed in Cignal, we promised that we will make it a champion team,” Daquis said.
The Cargo Movers, however, are favorites to quash that vow. With a crew led by Maraño, Kalei Mau, Majoy Baron, Ara Galang and Kim Fajardo, F2 Logistics will be a tough nut to crack.
But expect Gonzaga—at the very least—to play the only way she knows on Saturday: with indomitable will and passion.
She would feel incomplete otherwise. WITH A REPORT FROM BONG LOZADA