A cry for unity
A near brush with a medal in the Southeast Asian Games was good enough proof for the national women’s volleyball team to pick up a valuable lesson in preparedness. But the men’s team, performing way under the radar, drove home the point like a killer spike with a runner-up finish—the country’s first in 42 years in the regional Olympics.
Alyssa Valdez, the country’s top volleyball player, saw reality handed to the women’s program on a silver, well, medal.
“The men’s team [proved] it because they have the unity that a sport needs [to succeed internationally],” said the former Ateneo hotshot and current Creamline star.
Aby Maraño, the national team skipper and one of the most vocal advocates of the sport, agreed. The former La Salle standout and now F2 Logistics leader said that when the women’s team came close to a bronze medal, holding two match points in the fifth set against Indonesia only to be outplayed in the end, it should have pointed sports officials to the next step.
“The veterans of the [national] team, we only have one wish,” Maraño said. “That we all unite because we want a better finish for [our team]. In the end, our shortcomings were clear. We didn’t finish well because we lacked preparation. If we won, it would have been a shortcut because we would not realize what we really need to improve.”
The cry for unity from both players echoes the call made by Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas Inc. chief Peter Cayco.
But it is a more compelling cry for a reason.
Valdez is the biggest draw of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL). Maraño has long been the voice of the Philippine Superliga (PSL). That both leagues rival each other in a quest for the best players, the biggest sponsorship money and the most media mileage is the one thing that has hampered the growth of women’s volleyball, whose superstars give the sport a lot of mainstream appeal that rivals that of basketball.
As if the missed bronze wasn’t enough, the men’s team thrust the right blueprint in the faces of both leagues with a stunning silver-medal finish anchored on a roaring upset of regional toughie Thailand. There exists—a surprise to a lot, yes—a single men’s club league with a single calendar that can be adjusted to fit the schedule of the national team. As a result, the men’s team trained a whole lot longer for the SEA Games than the women did.
In fact, just getting the top women stars together to train or play friendly matches almost seemed like a major accomplishment for the national team.
“[We] come from different leagues,” Maddie Madayag said. The Ateneo star, a fearsome middle blocker, is considered one of the future stars of the national team and right in her first stint with the squad, it was clear what needed to be done.
“Most of the time, our game days and training days clash,” she added.
Seeing the light
“I think that’s what everybody, what we all need to look at if we want Philippine women’s volleyball to grow even more. That’s what we really have to work on.”
“We’ve already seen the light,” Valdez added.
The men’s team shone that light brightly. And while Maraño said women’s volleyball has to rise and begin taking baby steps to remedy the situation, the men’s squad is already planning how to build on its success.
“With a fighting heart like that and talent we now have, this team can achieve even more,” said Cayco, adding he is planning a yearlong training program for the men’s team headed by coach Dante Alinsunurin. “We need to capitalize on their recent feat and raise the profile of men’s volleyball in the country. We are now the giant-killer in the region.”
It’s shocking how the long ignored men’s team has now become, according to Maraño, the “inspiration for the women’s program.”
But it is what it is. And it is the women’s program that now casts a longing eye at the success earned by the men.
“I just pray that we will have the unity that volleyball really needs,” said Jovelyn Gonzaga, whose unique contract allows her to see action for both leagues.
“We need one more push, more sacrifice,” Valdez added. “We can reach the point where we can get medals but we not only need to change, we need to change right now.”
The question is, are the PVL and the PSL listening?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.