MANILA, Philippines -- Now more than ever, veteran middle blocker Aby Maraño is filled with hope for the future of Philippine volleyball.
Virtually all players in the country are now set to compete in one league -- the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) -- after the much-publicized transfers of club teams from the Philippine Superliga (PSL) earlier this month.
Maraño's F2 Logistics completed the exodus from the PSL, and the PVL will now have a full cast of 12 teams when it opens in late May for its first season as a professional league.
Already, the country's vibrant volleyball community is anticipating the "dream matches" that can take place, with the top clubs and top players finally getting the chance to face off.
For Maraño, it's an opportunity to play against former collegiate rivals, such as Creamline's Alyssa Valdez. The two have played together in the national team several times, but it has been years since they last competed against each other in something other than an exhibition match.
"Siyempre, na-miss mo na ring kalaban 'yung mga former opponents mo before, 'di ba, sa college. Mas masarap 'yun kasi magkakasama tayo lahat, para nagkakatagisan tayo ng talent. And with that, 'di ba, gumagaling lahat ng players, kasi nga, nacha-challenge sa bawat isa," said Maraño, a two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player with the powerhouse De La Salle University Lady Spikers.
But while she looks forward to renewing old rivalries and forming new ones, Maraño is also excited for the impact that the unified league will have on the national team.
A mainstay of the women's national team, Maraño has seen the challenges that they face just to put a squad together for international competitions. The conflicting schedules of the PVL and the PSL, for one, made it difficult to set up regular practice times. Asking permission from their clubs to attend training was another struggle as well.
With the national team players now under one umbrella, Maraño is confident that they will have an easier time coming together, forming a pool, and practicing.
"Napakalaki ng importansya na magkaroon ng isang liga para sa volleyball women's. Kasi nga, nahihirapan kami sa scheduling sa national team, pagdating sa practices, commitments sa mga players. Nahahati nga, nahihirapan," said Maraño, alluding to the myriad challenges they've faced.
"Kasi kung may laro, siyempre nahihirapan din magpaalam sa mother team," she added.
"So ngayon, given na we have one league, mas madali ng mag-adjust, 'di ba. Sabihin natin na makiusap si national team na, wait lang po, ipu-pull out natin ang players. At least, isang liga lang 'yung pagpu-pull out-an, at hindi nagkakabanggaan ng schedules."
Maraño is optimistic that this will be the first step towards the Philippines' return to relevance in volleyball, beginning with the Southeast Asian region. She pointed out that before Thailand started dominating the sport in the mid-1990s, it was the Philippines that kept winning gold medals in the SEA Games.
"Hindi naman inabot ng Thailand itong position at sitwasyon ng kanilang pamamayagpag sa volleyball dito sa Southeast Asia kung wala silang pinagdaanan na ganitong mga gusot or problema," she said.
"Sa atin, nagsisimula pa tayong ayusin 'yung mga lapses, 'yung mga pagkukulang natin," she added. "And in the future, nakikita ko, sana maging maayos, para ang makinabang, 'yung bagong generation."
As Maraño said, having one league is just the beginning. She and the rest of the volleyball players are ready to get to work to ensure that there will be a better future for the next generation of players.
In line with this, Maraño has been named to the Athletes Commission of the newly-formed Philippine National Volleyball Federation, together with Valdez who will serve as the chair. Denden Lazaro-Revilla and Johnvic de Guzman join them in the commission.
"Isa 'yan sa mga responsibilidad namin na makapag-contribute sa pagbabago ng national team and ng volleyball in general," said Maraño.