IT began on a dark and rainy Thursday night. The metropolis had been punished for days with late afternoon downpours that ground the late evening rush hour into a screeching halt as flash floods engulfed the city streets.
Even in the relatively safe confines of a gym, the BaliPure Purest Water Defenders were in the midst of their own personal and, maybe, perfect storm.
The Purest Water Defenders were in their final tune-up match before their semifinals series of the Reinforced Conference of the Premier Volleyball League against the Creamline Cool Smashers. The Petron Tri-Active Spikers, in the midst of their preparations for the Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Cup were playing BaliPure in a five-set practice match at the San Sebastian Gym along Recto, Manila. Not a best-of-three match. Just five whole sets regardless how many sets one wins for both sides to work out the kinks.
The whole week, the Purest Water Defenders seemed to be in a funk. They sauntered from one bad practice to another. No one could hit the ball properly much less receive and dig. Services were even worse. Nothing seemed to go right. Only middle hitter Risa Sato and utility spiker Jerrili Malabanan were the ones who did well enough in all the practices. As a result, the atmosphere got testy. And Head Coach Roger Gorayeb was at a breaking point.
After Petron’s Mela Tunay served the ball dropped in an open space between three players who all stared at one another as if to ask, “Who’s going to receive the ball?”
Point for Petron. Gorayeb blew his top and yanked libero Alyssa Eroa, yelling at her at the top of his voice. “Ikaw ang libero ikaw ang dapat unang kumuha nun!” he thundered. “Kung ayaw mo maglaro ay puwede ka na umuwi.”
Eroa stayed but sobbed by the baseline.
And if things could get any worse, utility spiker Jorelle Singh fell to the court in pain with a sharp cry.
Singh’s shrill cry immediately silenced the gym. Some of the San Sebastian Stags basketball players lingered in the floor above the gym and they too fell quiet.
“Diyos ko,” thought aloud Gorayeb who wondered if things could get any worse. Team officials immediately tended to Singh whose face was contorted in pain. Singh has severely sprained her ankle. The immediate prognosis was that she was going to miss the semifinals.
“Diyos ko,” once more uttered Gorayeb in disbelief. The week had gone from bad to worse.
The team continued their horrible play in the third set losing by a mile. In the first three sets and part of the fourth set, BaliPure played disjointed when guest players Jang Bualee and Jennifer Keddy were on the floor. When they were rotated out, the team played better prompting Gorayeb to sit them for the half of the fourth and the fifth set.
“The team actually plays better when we’re off the floor,” Keddy noted during a team huddle that had Gorayeb nearly losing his mind.
“Why?” he retorted rather testily. “Why is that so when both of you should elevate the team?” The coach then retreated inside the athletics office of San Sebastian to cool off.
The 6’4″ Keddy who hails from Montana, US, was also battling homesickness. After practice, she would spend her nights at a nearby Starbucks just chatting with her family back home. Once the Reinforced Conference was done, she was to fly back home and stay for a week before flying out to Germany for another tournament. “It’s tough,” was all she could say of her situation.
BaliPure came alive in the fourth and fifth sets with Malabanan torching a Petron squad that featured many of her teammates from far Eastern University. The Tri-Active Spikers’ head coach was Malabanan’s college coach…Shaq de los Santos. During the recent University Athletic Association of the Philippines tournament, Malabanan was benched for long periods.
When Gorayeb and BaliPure team management, headed by former PBA Rookie of the Year Gil Cortez, tried to sign her along with Gel Cayuna, they arrived at an impasse as de los Santos didn’t seemed inclined to release both to the second-year volleyball club. Instead, he tried to send both to PSL side, Cocolife.
Malabanan’s mother, seething with anger over her daughter’s benching, vented her ire on De Los Santos. After Far Eastern University officials interceded, Malabanan was BaliPure bound. Cayuna though was sent off to Cocolife.
(To be concluded)
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