Not many people today know what the Philippine sports scene was like in 1982.
Compared to today’s fast-paced, glamorous, and social-media driven culture, there were less sports faces and personalities that made waves with the public at the time–particularly in collegiate sports. Back then, it was all about playing for the school while being given the chance to earn a degree from a university.
No television exposure, no thousands of followers online, and most especially in the case of the University of the Philippines, no sponsors.
It was all play and study.
Just ask former Senator and Congresswoman Pia Cayetano.
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives played volleyball for the University of the Philippines at the time and was a key cog in their journey to the UAAP Volleyball Championship, which would also be the State University’s last major title in the sport–until last year.
Upon joining the Lady Fighting Maroons at the age of 16, she helped them bag their eighth title in the league before becoming captain of the team two years later.
After finishing the elimination round with a 13-1 slate with their lone loss coming at the hands of Far Eastern University, the UP Lady Fighting Maroons barged their way into the finals. Seeking revenge against the hitters from Morayta, they swept their tormentors from the previous year’s championship match by beating them in straight sets, 3-0.
That would be the last time UP tasted glory in women’s volleyball. That’s 37 long years ago.
Michael Jackson just released his album Thriller back then. Prince William, the present day’s Duke of Cambridge, was just born to Princess Diana. And the UAAP Volleyball tournament, unlike today, was played back in the first semester. It was UAAP Season 45.
The drought is over
That four-decade drought of not winning a major volleyball title ended last September when the current UP Lady Maroons defeated–once again–the FEU Lady Tamaraws in a classic three-game finals series.
The Lady Maroons mounted a comeback for the ages in the decider. Down 13-7 in the fifth set, they would go on an 8-0 blast to clinch the title, capped off by a service ace by graduating setter Ayel Estrañero.
They would go on to replicate the feat several months later, beating the Eya Laure-led University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses in the 2018 Philippine Superliga Collegiate Grand Slam to capture the inaugural title.
Knowing how success can be a double-edged sword in sports, the Lady Maroons quickly moved on and set their sights on the UAAP Season 81 Volleyball wars that opens this weekend.
“Laging sinasabi sa amin ni assistant coach Wendel Miguel, ‘champion kayo ng PSL at PVL. Ano ngayon? We know that’s not our main league. It’s all just preparation, a part of the process. That gave us pressure, but we think that’s always going to be there. We should just turn that into motivation that can push us to want it even more,” states graduating senior Marian Buitre, who decided to come back to the team and play out her final year of eligibility.
Captain Tots Carlos airs the same sentiment: “Those two titles and podium finishes are moral boosters but at the same time adds more pressure. The more the team achieves, the more that people will be expecting out of us this season. How we handle it is we have to play our game first before we adjust to the game of the other team. Our strategy this year is just sticking to and playing our type of game.”
Living with the spotlight
Pressure is always constant on a team, no matter what the sport. But given what this team has been through over the past few years, together with being able to field in a squad with both a mix of rookies and veteran seniors, they have learned to weather the storm and get it out of their minds.
Fourth year outside hitter Isa Molde says she doesn’t think about it all.
“Mas nangingibabaw yung iniisip namin na gusto naming manalo per game. Hindi namin siya inuunahan na championship agad. Per game yun gusto namin manalo,” says the Physical Education major.
Tots on the other hand, says she cannot help not think about it from time to time.
“As a senior, you can’t avoid it. But yeah, it is hard to look at the end result agad. This season, sobrang unpredictable lahat ng teams. Lahat nag-improve, and ang daming rookies na magagaling, nagi-improve yung mga setter, etc. We always remind ourselves, kung gusto naming manalo, it’s one game at at time.”
The graduating Buitre adds, “I don’t think kulang kami physically. Siguro kailangan lang namin mag-focus on mental toughness, the psychological aspects of the game. Kasi yun ang kailangan para magawa namin ng maganda, or ma-turn namin yung pressure into something good. Kailangan namin ayusin yun psychological aspect ng games.”
Indeed, last UAAP Season 80 was a test of composure for the Lady Maroons. Despite finishing the tournament with a 6-8 record, they experienced a lot of games wherein they would start strong, only to falter in the endgame.
They missed the Final Four by a game.
Even their first win in the first game against the cellar-dwelling UE Lady Warriors was questionable. Going up two sets to none, UE came all the way back to force a deciding fifth set where they took the lead for a brief moment, before Tots Carlos pulled through for the Diliman squad.
With a new coach at the time in Coach Godfrey Okumu–who was only given a short two months with the team prior to the start of season 80–the Lady Maroons were still grasping the system, his coaching style, and each other.
Sophomore opposite hitter Rosie Rosier remembers that as one of their main problems as a team as she quips, “Last season we didn’t know how to finish. This year during the offseason we figured out how to win together. It prepared us as a team, and not as individuals.”
“We were so consistent in the beginning of games. Pero yung finishing,bumababa. The last few tournaments, natuto kami maglaro as a team. Yun yung laging sinasabi ni Coach. Always finish strong,” agrees third year middle blocker Jessma Ramos.
Endgames reveal real teams. It’s where people see if they truly have chemistry and camaraderie. And this Season 81’s UP Lady Maroons don’t think that will be a problem for them.
“In training kasi, ginagawa na rin namin yung bonding. ‘Di kami yung naajit (get irritated) palagi pag may nagkakamali. Pag may nawawala na, kinakausap agad namin. Ine-enjoy agad naming para di nila agad maramdaman yun pressure,” shares Molde, the 2018 PVL Collegiate Conference Most Valuable Player.
The 5-foot-8 Buitre added, “Basta communication lagi. Hindi pwede yung kunwari nagkamali yung isa, ‘di mo na lang papansinin kasi baka masaktan feelings niya. We’re all in sa UAAP. Hindi pwedeng sensitive or emotional ka, If you let your emotions get to you, hindi tayo magsu-succeed.”
Oftentimes, rookies get the blunt of those mistakes on the court. A missed rotation, assignment, or task is easily seen especially with how short a collegiate player’s time is for his or her school. But for rookie setter Mai Sotomil, she doesn’t shy away from it and embraces the journey ahead as both a privilege and opportunity.
“I’m just really honored to be a part of this team.Hanggang ngayon nga parang di pa rin ako makapaniwala na naglalaro na ako for UP.Pero based dun sa preseason namin, I think we took one big step because we gained a lot of confidence and respect from people and our opponents,” shares the Bacolod Tay Tung High School alumna.
Everyone saw how UP’s Men’s Basketball team became a unifying factor for the whole UP system, both its fans, students, and alumni. Their women’s volleyball team hopes to do the same as they look to use Paul Desiderio’s battle cry of “Atin ‘to!” as an inspiration.
Carlos excitedly says “Winning a championship in one of the two most popular schools in the Philippines, malaking dealyun eh. Hindi mo na kakailanganing mag-recruit kasi yung mga magagaling na players sila mismo yung gusto na pumunta sa school.”
“Nakita niyo naman kung gaano ka all-out yun UP Men’s Basketball.Their only goal was to make the Final Four pero biglang nag second place sila. Nakaka-inspire din yung ganun so siyempre may mga tao ding na-inspire sa kanila like us. Kung ano man yung na-feel namin sa championship games, dadalin namin sa UAAP. Alam na namin yung feeling ng ganong kalaking game,” Molde quickly adds.
Rosier, who hails from Brent International School, confidently believes the same.
“(All the schools) are all in the same level. It’s up to who really wants it. Look at the tarp.”
She points to the huge UP Women’s Volleyball team tarpaulin hanging at the side of the UP College of Human Kinetics Gymnasium.
On the bottom it says: “How bad do you want it.”
A positive Tots Carlos affirms the same attitude.
“Basta ako, gusto ko mag-champion.”
The UP Lady Maroons open their UAAP Season 81 Volleyball Tournament on February 16, 2019 at 2 PM against the UE Lady Warriors at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Photographs by Luisa Morales and Keith Magcaling