MANILA, Philippines – Players from the De La Salle Lady Spikers and the Ateneo Lady Eagles were honored to be part of a historic day for Philippine sports when they competed in the most-watched UAAP women's volleyball game last Saturday.
A record crowd of 19,638 fans watched the Lady Spikers and the Lady Eagles' second-round encounter at the Mall of Asia Arena last February 9. It was the largest audience for a women's volleyball game in the history of Philippine sports.
The match saw the top-ranked La Salle squad assert their dominance by sweeping the Lady Eagles in straight sets, 25-19, 25-23 and 25-21.
The players from both squads were both surprised and gratified to see how far volleyball has grown in the Philippines.
"I'm very thankful that I was part of the first game at MOA Arena," said La Salle's Michelle Gumabao. "I was super honored because whenever I hear old players talk about the old seasons, they said hindi ganito kataas ang hype ng volleyball."
Ateneo's Gretchen Ho, who has been playing since she was in Grade 7, credited previous stars including La Salle's Manilla Santos and Ateneo's Charo Soriano for raising the profile of the sport.
"Noong high school pa lang ako, doon pa lang nagsisimula ‘yung hype ng volleyball. Time nila Illa Santos, Charo Soriano, at sobrang idol namin sila," Ho said.
"Volleyball has grown so much until now, and it's amazing to see that kind of following," she added. "It's great that volleyball has that kind of following now."
"We're looking forward to the kind of crowd that it will have in the future."
Aside from the record crowd that watched at the venue, the game also drew a large television audience.
UAAP Sports TV reported that the Ateneo-La Salle game was the second most-watched UAAP event covered by Studio 23, next only to the 2010 UAAP Cheer Dance Competition.
The game also drew a better television rating than the UAAP Season 75 men’s basketball finals between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers.
Gumabao is hoping that the sport’s rise in popularity will translate to success on the national level.
"My dream is for the national team to improve here in the Philippines, and maybe that will happen in the years to come," she said.