MANILA, Philippines – The last time Michele Gumabao won a title in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL), she was showered with boos by irate fans.
This was all the way back in November 2016, when Gumabao piloted the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors to the crown in the V-League Reinforced Conference. They had swept the Bureau of Customs in the finals –- then led by Alyssa Valdez.
Gumabao earned Finals MVP honors in that series, having scored 14 points on top of 12 digs in Game 2. So heated was the crowd's reaction to Gumabao that Valdez felt compelled to ask her fans inside the Philsports Arena to stop booing.
"To all my haters, still love you guys because you inspire me to be better each and every day! Can't blame me for playing with my heart. Keep 'em coming," Gumabao tweeted after their title-clinching win in Game 2.
Reminiscing about her title run with Pocari in 2016, Gumabao insists that the boos never bothered her. She was used to catching flak from fans, especially as most of them backed Valdez, regardless of what team the "Phenom" was playing for.
"I think when we won that championship and I was the Finals MVP, sobrang nag-aangasan na kami noon and, you know, being an Ateneo-dominant crowd that time, I'm used to it. Even if it's not the finals, they always boo me so nasanay na talaga ako," she explained.
Two years later, those hateful boos from the fans are but a distant memory. This time around, when Gumabao won a PVL title, she did so as a member of the most popular team in the league – the Creamline Cool Smashers, where she now teams up with longtime rival Valdez.
So loved is Gumabao now that when they won the Reinforced Conference crown on Wednesday – via a two-game sweep of PayMaya – she was one of the players who got the loudest cheers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Being part of Creamline, our following is just so huge," Gumabao noted after the finals series.
She won't deny that majority of their fands are there because of Valdez and Jia Morado – former Ateneo de Manila University players who garnered a massive group of supporters that followed them from the collegiate level all the way to the club league.
"It's really an honor to play with them," said Gumabao. "I haven't been in a team like this in a long (time), na everything is just going right."
"Everybody just wants to contribute – everyone from management to coaches just wants to help the team win," she added.
Gumabao took a winding road to Creamline. She left Pocari Sweat to play for Cocolife in the Philippine Superliga last year, then left volleyball entirely for a few months to become a beauty queen.
When she returned to volleyball with the Cool Smashers, Gumabao showed that her time off the court did little to dull her skills, or to quench the competitive fire that she has always displayed. "Big MG," as Valdez calls her, came up big for Creamline in the finals and helped them earn a breakthrough title in the PVL.
Ironically, it was also Valdez's first volleyball championship in three years – and it came with help from the player who repeatedly denied her a title in 2016.
"Siguro, if there's one thing that I like bringing to a team, it's really the heart and the spirit," said Gumabao. "Trying to encourage everyone inside the court, because that's what a team needs."
"If that means championships, I'll bring it every game," she vowed.
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