MANILA, Philippines—When its season was on the line, PayMaya turned to a player who had only recently begun to deliver for the team.
By her own admission, Grethcel Soltones was not at her best during the preliminary round of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Reinforced Conference. She was dealing with various injuries that robbed her of her usual explosiveness, and coach Roger Gorayeb responded by benching her as she recovered.
“Kung natatandaan niyo noong elimination, hindi ko siya ginagamit. Kasi may mga injury-injury siyang nararamdaman. So unti-unti kong binalik,” Gorayeb explained.
Gorayeb opted to slowly reintegrate Soltones into PayMaya’s lineup, using her as a utility spiker toward the end of the elimination round before finally unleashing her as an outside hitter in the semifinals. Soltones, a former three-time NCAA Most Valuable Player, had 16 points in PayMaya’s four-set loss to BanKo-Perlas on Sunday.
She turned in her best effort of the conference so far on Wednesday, when she saved the High Flyers from elimination. With the game tied at 11 in the fifth set, Soltones took charge, firing back-to-back crosscourt kills for a 13-11 lead. A violation by BanKo’s Kia Bright made it 14-11; Bright later scored through an offspeed shot to make up for her error.
But by that point, Soltones was already unstoppable. The former San Sebastian ace burst through to complete a combination play, smashing the ball for a down-the-line hit that bounced off Bright’s arms and sealed PayMaya’s triumph. She finished with 22 points in the win, built on 18 kills and three aces.
“Gusto ko pang mag-third game,” said Soltones after her squad tied the best-of-3 series at one game apiece. “Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko na andami na nating napag-daanan, tapos parang dito pa ba tayo susuko?”
Gorayeb feels that at this point in the conference, Soltones is already 90% fit, which is obviously a massive improvement from how the player was performing earlier in the season.
“Masaya ako kasi sa parte ko bilang coach, mas nakaka-diskarte ako sa tao pagka may dalawang opener kang matibay. Kaya natutuwa naman ako na si Gretchel, bumabalik na 'yung dati niyang laro,” said the coach.
“Pero ako, alam ko na meron pang ibubuga 'yung bata eh. Kailangan lang na tuloy-tuloy lang,” he added.
Soltones downplayed questions regarding her fitness.
“I just always put my heart in playing volleyball, and gusto ko rin na mapasaya 'yung mga taong sumusuporta sa amin,” she said.
Thanks in part to Soltones’ heroics in crunch time, the High Flyers live to fight another day; they will play BanKo-Perlas again on Friday, this time with the winner advancing to the Finals of the Reinforced Conference.
“Kapag ma-maintain namin ‘yung blocking and defense namin, I’m sure makakakuha kami ng win,” said Soltones. “’Yun lang.”
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)