Defining the 2010s: Jovelyn Gonzaga won’t stop fighting

Editor’s Note: As the decade draws to a close, FOX Sports Philippines relive the moments that defined volleyball in the country.

From classic rivalries to player highlights, volleyball in the 2010s is definitely one for the books — a chapter in the sports that will be remembered in the next decade and, most probably, the decade after that.

This article is part of FOX Sports PH’s Defining the 2010s series.

The Guimaras native was at the top of the local volleyball scene until a career-changing injury in 2017 kept her out of the court for a year. In 2019, she marked her return in the best way possible — with three club team medals and her national team comeback. But in this year-end special, Jovelyn Gonzaga tells Fox Sports PH just how close she was to hanging her jersey for good.

 

Words by Denver Del Rosario
Banner photo from Sports Vision

 

“Are you afraid–” I pause, right in the middle of the interview. Jovelyn Gonzaga looks at me from the other side of the table, and she knows I held back. Unlike me, there is no hesitation on her part as she comes up with a smile, like she already knows the question that I, too, am scared of asking but curious about knowing the answer. Are you afraid of being injured again?

Two years ago, Gonzaga was at the top of Philippine volleyball. A recipient of numerous individual and team accolades, the 5-foot-8 lefty has been regarded as one of the country’s best opposite hitters. She proved unstoppable every which way — until the unfortunate happened. A major knee injury forced her out of the court for the whole of 2018, turning her continuing rise to a frustrating halt. 

We converse in a Philippine Army canteen as she looks occasionally at the cadets going over a morning drill while she thinks about my question. Her eyes are calm and wise, as expected of an athlete who has survived her greatest challenges yet. Her nature is steady and amiable, a character generous with her experiences. 

“‘Yung fear, laging nandoon, hindi nawawala; lalo na nung naglaro kami against Indonesia na may na-injure sa kalaban, na-distract ako doon,” she replies, at last. She additionally recalls their game against the Foton Tornadoes last October, where CJ Rosario fell down with a knee injury in the third set. “Nag-time out agad si Coach Ed no’n, kasi alam niyang mabilis akong ma-bother.”

“Nandoon ‘yung fear, pero once na naglalaro na ako, hindi ko na iyon naiisip,” she concludes. 

Despite the unwavering assurance in her voice, Gonzaga admits that she, too, was once afraid to ask herself if she would ever be ready to go back again. To stay away from the sport for a whole year proved to be a difficult mountain to climb, but she made it through; in reality, her year-long absence from the court gave her a much better perspective on her career.

Gonzaga has been busy since her awaited comeback, but now she finally gets to have a much-needed break.  Many days have passed since their unsuccessful campaign in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, where the Philippine national women’s volleyball team failed to get on the podium after finishing the tournament winless, including their five-set heartbreak in their bronze medal match against Indonesia. 

She vividly remembers the crucial stretch of what could have been their saving grace of the tournament. The team already felt like glory was within reach when they led Indonesia in the fifth set, 12-8, before the guest team rallied back to bring the game closer, 12-13. When Ces Molina scored a through-the-block hit to set up match point, 14-12, Gonzaga thought they had it. All they needed was one more play to get their long-awaited medal, the first since 2005.

But the point never came; instead, Indonesia went on to score four straight points to end the match and claim bronze.

“Ang sarap na nga sa feeling nung naka-14 na kami; naghihintay na lang kami ng huling puntos. Pero hindi e, eto na naman kami, na sorry na naman ang sasabihin namin,” she says. Gonzaga admits the whole team was left in frustration. In retrospect, she knows they could’ve pulled off the victory: many of them, if not the whole national team, have been competing in international tournaments since 2015. Just a few days before, they bowed down to Vietnam also in five sets, so a lesson should have been learned. They were so close, just one step short of stepping back on the podium and hopefully giving their detractors a little peace of mind. But, maybe, it still wasn’t their time.

And yet, after their disappointing campaign, Gonzaga is fine. There is no chaos in how she reflects on what they did or did not do, only a steady admission of how far they have come.

At first, she cried, along with everyone else; only tears of disappointment and frustration were heard in their dugout post-game. “Para kaming namatayan,” she recalls. But it was especially painful for Gonzaga, Aby Marano, and Alyssa Valdez, who have been bannering the squad in the regional meet since 2015, but to no avail. The opposite spiker has always been vocal and passionate about wanting to give the Philippines a medal in women’s volleyball, but she has failed yet again. 

“Gusto kong manalo. Sino bang hindi gustong magka-medalya? Ilang taon na naming sinusubukan nila Aby at Alyssa; three consecutive SEA Games na kaming magkakasama. Gusto rin naming magbalik sa mga taong naniniwala sa amin, na sana huwag silang mapagod sa amin. Pero eto, sayang, sorry na naman, magpo-post na naman kami ng: “Sorry, we fell short.”” She says.

But after a while, regret slowly turned into gratitude. Not bad for a team that was only finalized a month before the SEA Games, she says. Not bad for a team that gave the others a fight to remember, she adds. Acceptance meant days mulling over the outcome, but now she has moved forward, hoping the stars will align for them next time.

Ultimately, Gonzaga has no complaints — after all, there are so many things this year that she is thankful for: winning three medals for two different teams in two different leagues, donning the tricolors for the third time in a row, and, most importantly, getting the chance to play the sport she loves.

Sobrang puno ng taon ko. Every day, hindi ko nakakalimutang magdasal na matapos ko ‘yung araw na safe and sound, since ‘yung tuhod ko is coming from an injury. Grabe din ‘yung commitment ko na dalawang team — halos hindi na ako nakakapagpahinga, tapos dagdagan mo pa ng national team. Pero sobrang grateful ako sa blessings na binibigay ni Lord sa akin. Bakit pa ako magi-inarte? Bakit ko pa tatanggihan?” she says.

Throughout the years, Gonzaga still stands as one of the most reliable all-around players in the local volleyball industry. Since her comeback, her game has not been as quick and flashy as before but is still efficient and reliable. Her pre-injury performance was touted by enthusiasts as one of the best in the nation: she was quick, deadly in attack, and scrappy in the backrow. But she’s a different Jovelyn Gonzaga now — one who is much wiser and steadier, one who makes do with what she has.

What never changed, though, is the immense amount of fight she shows on the court. Once she puts her mind into the game, Gonzaga will never give up on a play no matter how improbable — whether the ball is too far or the set is too tight, she will find a way to score or keep the play alive. Her passion is as strong as her resilience: to play for two different teams in two different leagues at the same time can be taxing, but she insists she doesn’t want to waste an opportunity to play volleyball, not after being given a second chance. She might have not completely regained her full form, but she will always have the heart.

Ang masasabi ko lang, puso at determinasyon ang [kanyang] puhunan. Isa siyang inspirasyon. She helps the team not only in scoring but also [with her] leadership. We need that,” said co-senior Alyssa Valdez on Gonzaga’s return to the tricolor squad, serving as a testimonial to how vital the latter’s role is in the national team.

But while her comeback serves as a tale of inspiration to many, Gonzaga admits she almost gave up on her dream.

2017 seems like a long time ago. Blogger Mocha Uson was appointed as a government official, ‘fake news’ became a prominent discourse, Uber’s operations were suspended by the LTFRB, and war-torn Marawi was finally liberated. 

But for Gonzaga, only one thing comes to mind.

Painful memories can’t be forgotten so easily; how the turning point in her career happened is still clear in her mind. She narrates the details carefully: November 21, San Juan Arena, Cignal HD went up against F2 Logistics. In the second set, she jumped for the kill, and then she landed with a single leg before completely falling to the floor. The audience let out a collective gasp, and her teammates voiced out their worries. 

But the only thing she heard was three consecutive pops. At that moment, nothing around her seemed to matter.

“Ang pumasok agad sa isip ko, paano na ‘yung family ko, kasi ako ‘yung nagpo-provide para sa pamilya ko — at the same time, paano ‘yung career ko, kasi usually kapag may na-injure, hindi na nakakabalik nang malakas.”

“Sa dugout, grabe ‘yung iyak ko; kahit anong comforting words, useless talaga,” she recalls.

That day, Gonzaga was officially diagnosed with an injured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee. However, she had to wait until the last week of January the following year before undergoing surgery.

2018 marked what she considers the toughest yet most rewarding year of her life. After her knee operation, she went straight to rehabilitation for three months — a period she describes as ‘boring’. Her daily schedule consisted of traveling from the Philippine Army Wellness Center in Taguig all the way to the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center in Katipunan, which is supposed to be a little-over-an-hour drive on a good day. 

“Ako lang mag-isa no’n. Magta-travel ka ng isang oras, tapos may kasama pang traffic. Sasamahan ka pa ng rehab mong almost half a day; magsisimula akong lunch, matatapos ako ng 7 pm. Tapos bibiyahe pa ako pauwi. Ang process, paulit-ulit, back to zero talaga — puro weights training, na darating sa point na mahihilo ka,” she recalls.

Even before her knee operation, Gonzaga knew the recovery process would be an uphill battle. Keeping herself from watching games was already painful as it is, but the first three months of rehabilitation proved to be the hardest to get through. Putting volleyball on a distance, she says, really does things to a player; she had to constantly remind herself that giving up is not an option. 

“Nung time na injured ako, never akong nanuod ng volleyball kasi nandoon pa rin ‘yung pain. Nilayo ko talaga ang sarili ko. Dumating ako sa point na ayoko nang maglaro: paano kung mag-business na lang kaya ako? Mag-coach na lang kaya ako? Nandoon na ako sa point na gusto kong sumuko, pero hindi e, kasi may goal ako,” she admits.

For her, distraction was easy to find: she binge-watched various movies and television series in her free time, and she found more time to reconnect with her family and friends. Everyone around her said the injury was the universe’s way to let her slow down and take things easy. “Sabi nga nila, kapag ako lang nag-desisyon para sa sarili ko, hindi talaga ako magpapahinga, which is true,” she says, laughing at the idea.

While she took some time to sit back for a while, she knew she still had her work cut out for her. So after spending the first three months of 2018 in rehab, she took the initiative to put herself in military school, an experience that significantly changed her perspective on her volleyball career. 

Gonzaga sighs as she recalls six months of learning military discipline, an almost-18 hour daily regimen that proved too much at first but then grew on her after a while. She tells me to look at the cadets doing their morning drill, saying what they are doing is nowhere near half the everyday training. To wake up at four in the morning and only get to sleep two hours before midnight felt overwhelming at first, but it was a sacrifice she was willing to make if it meant a stronger version of herself.

Looking back, Gonzaga thanks her military training for preparing her for the true challenges of life. If not for those six months, she wouldn’t have known how to handle two club team commitments at once; she wouldn’t have had both the physical and mental strength to go on. 

“Thankful ako kasi pinalakas niya ‘yung resistance and mentality ko — na-realize ko na kaya ko pala, na mas lalong tumibay ‘yung utak ko sa challenges na haharapin ko sa labas. Dahil sa military training, nagawa kong hatiin ‘yung time ko sa Army at sa Cignal. Kung wala akong military training at dating buhay ko lang, parang hindi ko kakayanin kasi palaantukin ako tsaka mabilis akong mapagod. Dahil sa military training, tumibay ako,” she says. 

With her newfound fortitude, she spent the last quarter of 2018 back in rehabilitation to further strengthen her body. She didn’t want to waste any chances — she would go back to zero all over again if it meant having another opportunity to stand on the court anew. But putting in the work was just half the journey; staying motivated was another. For an athlete who faced a career-changing injury, keeping the fire burning proved to be the biggest struggle.

I ask her about who she draws inspiration from. She immediately brings up her family and her teammates, but she is also quick to mention her nephew CV, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She lightens up as she talks about the three-year-old kid and how grateful she is after the volleyball community united to extend financial help for her nephew’s medical needs.

After four cycles of treatment, CV is showing signs of improvement. He’s still cheerful and naughty, Gonzaga says. “Sa nakikita ko, he’s getting better — very positive kami na mabe-beat niya ang cancer. Never niyang inisip na may sakit siya,” she says.

The kid’s optimism despite his illness has been a huge driving force in her passion for volleyball. She has no right, she says, to ever give up on her career when she sees her nephew fighting. “Si CV nga, lumalaban e — ako pa kaya na kumpleto?”

2018 was when she detached herself from volleyball, and yet it was also the year when everything seemed to fall into place. Looking back, she knows it is her time away from the court that helped her realize her true potential and rekindle her love for the sport. 

It was an uphill climb for Gonzaga, but she came through. Finally, she was ready to go back. 

2019, she says, has been about resurgence and redemption. When the Pacifictown-Army Lady Troopers marked their return to the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference this year, all eyes were on Gonzaga, who was making a comeback of her own. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the athlete back in action, eager to witness just how much her game has changed from over a year ago. 

First few games in, the scoring wasn’t as much compared to her former output. Unlike their previous campaigns, the Lady Troopers were still performing even without her doing much damage. And yet she was patient. She knew she was still physically unfit, still a bit slow in her movements — but she trusted the process. The pressure to keep up with everyone’s expectations was there, but it was easy to disregard when her whole team only expected her to have fun and take her time. 

She laughs as she reminds me of a memory of how confident she was when we asked her to rate her performance in a post-game interview early in the conference. “One time, in-interview niyo ako, tinanong niyo kung anong percent na ako — sabi ko, 100 percent. Pero doon pala sa laro ko, nasa fifty to sixty percent pa lang ako. Malakas ang utak ko, pero ang katawan ko, hindi pa. Nung pagbalik ko, kapaan pa talaga, pero hindi ko pine-pressure ang sarili ko. Laging nandoon ‘yung alalay at reminders na wag kong i-todo, at mag-relax lang,” she recalls. 

The course back to reclaiming her dominance proved long and difficult as the season went by. While her performance steadily improved with each game, people couldn’t help but compare her current form with her pre-injury showing, an era many still consider as the peak in her career. When I mention how strong she was prior to her ACL tear, she is dumbfounded.

Gonzaga laughs as she thanks her ‘short-term’ memory for preventing everyone’s expectations to affect her game. “Alam mo, ang dami ngang nagsasabi sa akin niyan, na sayang daw kasi nasa peak daw ako noon, na malakas daw talaga ako bago ako ma-injure. Kapag sinasabi kong, “Uy, parang lumalakas na ako ulit ha”, may nagsasabi na mas malakas pa ako dati. Pero good thing na hindi ko maalala, kasi walang pressure sa akin,” she recalls.

The opposite spiker admits the change was foreign, but a necessary part of her journey. Obviously, she wasn’t the same player she was over a year ago; there was self-growth as much as there were pieces of regression. Before the Reinforced Conference even started, she already accepted that she wouldn’t be considered the main offensive option, knowing it was her first time back and with the Lady Troopers loaded with other reliable spikers. She knew her role with the team — from being a scoring leader to mainly contributing in defense. It was silent but steady.

So it was especially sweet for Gonzaga when her team finished the tournament on the podium, winning the bronze medal series against the Banko Perlas Spikers. She vividly remembers how the extended winner-take-all match concluded — she delivered the game-winning ace before letting herself cry on the floor. That fifth was all Gonzaga; she delivered for the Lady Troopers just when they needed her most. 

To finish her first conference back standing on the podium was redemption. For Gonzaga, the glory was as much for her team as it was for herself. “Feeling ko doon ako nagsimulang umingay ulit; naramdaman ko ulit, somehow, ‘yung lumang ako. Ang sarap sa feeling kasi tambak kami noon, at bilang ayokong nagpapatalo, attitude lang talaga ako — kapag umatake ‘yung kabila, block ako; kapag binigyan ako ng set, papaluin ko; kapag magse-serve ako, ia-ace ko,” she says.

“Alam kong hindi ako iyon e, hindi ko control iyon lahat. In God’s perfect timing talaga,” she says.

Good things kept happening to Gonzaga’s career from then on. Her other club team Cignal HD Spikers went on to an improbable run in the Philippine Superliga All-Filipino Conference. In what was probably one of the best volleyball games of the year, the HD Spikers put up a gallant stand against the Petron Blaze Spikers in their first semifinal game as they rallied from seven points down in the fourth set, 15-22, to force a fifth set and take the game, erasing the latter’s twice-to-beat advantage and extending the series to a do-or-die match. 

Contributing four crucial points in their fourth set rally, Gonzaga says their semifinal series against Petron is one of the highlights of her year, knowing they had the chance to take themselves to the PSL finals. Just when reporters were ready to hit the publish button, Cignal came storming right back for a different headline.

“Hindi ko talaga inasahan, kasi malinaw na sa lahat na Petron na iyon. Pero nahabol pa namin. Ang dami ngang nagsabi na para siyang fairytale. At that time, sabi sa amin ng management na okay lang kung matalo tayo kasi napanalo naman natin ‘yung puso ng fans,” she says.

With their morale on an all-time high, Gonzaga and the HD Spikers never looked back as they overpowered Petron in their do-or-die semifinal game, toppling a championship duel that has long reigned over the league.

Ultimately, her team fell short in the finals against eventual champions F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. But for Gonzaga, they have already won before they even got there.  “Nung championship, iniisip pa namin kung makakapuno ba kami ng venue, kasi alam naman ng lahat na ang mainit na labanan ay Petron at F2. Paglabas namin, ang daming tao,” she recalls.

After their All-Filipino campaign, Gonzaga continued to help Cignal’s campaign in the PSL as they took the bronze medal in the Invitationals.

For Gonzaga, everything was enough. To bring her two club teams to podium finishes was already a blessing from above: just a year ago, she wasn’t sure if she could ever go back to the sport, but she achieved more than she ever hoped for. 

But the universe wasn’t done writing her story of resurgence.

When the first list for the national team came out, Gonzaga wasn’t on the list. The lineup was already filled with talent: mainstays Valdez and Marano provided the much-needed leadership as newcomers Kalei Mau and Alohi Robins-Hardy entered to provide fresh potential for the national team. Given her long layoff from the sport, she knew she wasn’t as good as she was before. She wanted another shot, but she understood; for her, donning the tricolors for indoor volleyball was a dream she was ready to let go.

Initially, Gonzaga was called up to represent the country in beach volleyball, together with Sisi Rondina, Bernadeth Pons, and Dzi Gervacio. When the opportunity came, she was happy. “Nagising ako isang araw na may naniniwala pa rin pala sa kakayahan ko,” she says. 

Having accepted her fate, she almost set her beach volleyball duties to stone. But one message from national team head coach Shaq Delos Santos changed her mind: 

“Jov, may tanong sana ako: Willing ka pa ba?”

She recalls how excited she felt when she saw the text. “Ang feeling ko talaga no’n, thank you Lord, kasi siya ang piloto ng lahat. Wala akong hinihingi, naglalaro ako nang buong puso — si Lord na ‘yung nagre-reward sa akin,” she says. She replied yes in a heartbeat: getting the chance to represent the country for the third time is a dream come true, a fitting ode to her younger self. 

Gonzaga’s beginnings were humble, too genuine. On a makeshift court in the middle of Guimaras, she sees her elementary self playing with other kids she invited from all over her neighborhood. “Uuwi iyon ng mga bahay nila na umiiyak, kasi pinapagalitan ko kapag naglalaro,” she reminisces, laughing at the memory. 

She wasn’t the most outgoing kid, never learned how to swim even when her province is surrounded by pristine waters, but she was passionate about sports. Volleyball was her first love, but then came chess and table tennis, with the latter almost becoming her main thing before her school principal intervened. 

Muntikan na akong mag-quit sa volleyball dahil sa table tennis. Kaso ‘yung principal namin sa school, nagalit, kasi gusto niya ako sa volleyball,” she says, laughing. “Thankful din ako sa kanya, kasi kung hindi dahil sa kanya, na-pursue ko na ‘yung table tennis.”

The sport, she says, was already popular back then. But unlike the fans of today who are up to date with everything, Gonzaga and others like her had to wait for the newspaper to catch up. She regards legends Michelle Carolino, Mary Jean Balse, and Tina Salak as her idols growing up, admitting she joined the Lady Troopers to play alongside them.

Life back then in Guimaras was low, she says. Her mom owned a carinderia, while her dad was a former tricycle driver; with their situation, supporting five kids proved difficult. But she had a dream. She wanted to make something out of herself and she was determined. Life was hard, Gonzaga says, but volleyball was easy: it has been one of the only few things remaining constant in her life.

“Hindi ko naisip na walang volleyball. Nung college, kailangan kong pumili ng course — pero hindi ko talaga alam kung ano. Sa utak ko, volleyball lang talaga,” she admits.

She has always wanted to represent the country ever since her younger days; this year, she marked her third time donning the tricolors. Coming back to the national team was a big task to fulfill especially for her who took a while before returning to the sport, but she was eager — she wanted to see how much has changed since two years ago, to showcase her own skills and gauge her level.

This year was especially memorable for Gonzaga with the Philippines hosting the SEA Games. She had the time of her life at the opening ceremonies in the Philippine Arena, where they were welcomed with unwavering pride by the home crowd. She remembers seeing the flags, the lights, the people singing to Hotdog’s ‘Manila’ as they walked in: it is a memory she keeps close to her heart.

I bring up the moment where the country’s sports legends carried the SEA Games Federation flag; she immediately gets excited as I am. Lydia De Vega-Mercado, Paeng Nepomuceno. Bong Coo, Onyok Velasco, Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes, Akiko Thomson, Eric Buhain, and Alvin Patrimonio — these are names we study in our sibika classes. To see them together in one event was exciting for the public, much more for the athletes.

“Isipin mo, mga world champion sila, parang mapapaisip ka na paano nila ginawa? Anong preparation nila? Anong mentality nila? Anong kinakain nila?” she says. “Ang nakikita ko talaga, heroes. Isa silang inspirasyon.”

Before the tournament started, Gonzaga says the team came together to talk about their games and set their expectations. At that point, much has happened to the national team: players got ejected and brought in at the last minute. To finish at the podium would be a difficult challenge, but Gonzaga told her teammates not to worry and just pour their hearts out for the country.

“Yung gabi bago kami kami maglaro, kinausap kaming lahat: “Isa-isa kayong magsalita kung anong masasabi niyo sa magiging laro natin bukas.” Ang sinabi ko lang sa team, nandito lang ako kapag kailangan niyo ako,” she recalls.

Everyone knows how their campaign ended: winless in four games played. Gonzaga, who has always wanted to give the Philippines a medal in women’s volleyball, admits her frustration with how things ended, but she chooses to look at the silver lining.

Throughout the tournament, she saw a bright future for the national team; she regards Mylene Paat, Eya Laure, and Maddie Madayag as the hope of Philippine volleyball. Seeing them play especially in pressure-packed moments made Gonzaga proud and even work harder as a teammate.

“Kapag nagsasabay sila Maddie, Eya, at Paat sa loob, nasasabi ko na future talaga. Sobrang happy ko for them. Nagiging morale-booster din sila sa akin; kapag nakikita mong nagtatrabaho ‘yung mga bata, parang ang gagawin ko na lang ay dumepensa. Susuportahan ko sila sa likod, kasi gumagawa sila sa harap,” she says. 

Paat, who also plays opposite, has nothing but kind words for her senior. She regards Gonzaga not just as a good teammate, but also a good friend. “Isa siyang leader. We learn from her and she learns from us. Hindi siya madamot sa kung anong meron siya. Nagpapalitan kami ng istorya, at nagpapayuhan kami sa isa’t isa,” she says.

Gonzaga still has more to give to the national team, but she knows time is catching up with her. In the next SEA Games, she will be 30. She isn’t sure if she will still be fit to don the tricolors by then. But she is definitely not shutting her doors: after all, she still hasn’t fulfilled her dream of bringing glory back to the country. And even if she isn’t asked to return, she wants the younger ones to finish what they started.

“Sana mapasama pa ako, pero kung hindi man, sana makuha ng mga bata. Iyon talaga ang pangarap ko nung bata pa ako: gusto ko talagang mabigyan ng medalya ang Pilipinas. Ayoko pang mag-retire nang hindi pa nabibigyan, pero pasikip na ng pasikip ang panahon e,” she says hopingly.

Before we wrap up the interview, she offers to buy me a bottle of water. She knows I will travel far so early in the morning (Fort Bonifacio to Fairview is not commuter-friendly at all). She gives me the cold drink as she goes back to her seat across mine. Then I ask my last question: What is your takeaway from your comeback this year? 

Gonzaga is silent for a while before coming up with her answer. In retrospect, she knows she wouldn’t have done it all — brought her two club teams to podium finishes, proved her worth to the national team — if not for the time she spent struggling and finding her purpose outside the court. If there is anything she wants other people to learn from her story, it is attitude — a concept she further learned in military training. With the right attitude and outlook, nothing is out of reach.

She remarks: “Kung hindi mo siya sasamahan ng attitude, wala kang mapupuntahan. Iyon ang sinama ko sa journey ko, pati ‘yung faith ko kay Lord. Simula nung na-injure ako at sa lahat ng naging problema ko, I never asked why. At the same time, utang na loob din sa mga taong naniniwala’t nagtitiwala sa akin; dahil doon, mas naging magaan ang journey ko this 2019.”

She recalls FEU’s Lycha Ebon, a talented young lefty who fell down to a knee injury in the UAAP, asking her for advice. She tells her it is easy to surrender, but she must fight. Many players have fallen victim to potentially career-ending injuries, but Gonzaga carried on — so did Ara Galang, Kathy Bersola, Des Cheng, and Dindin Santiago-Manabat, among others. With her comeback story, she hopes to be a source of motivation for others who are experiencing the same struggle she had two years ago.

She says: “Sana maging inspiration kami para hindi sila mawalan ng pag-asa. Kasi I assure you, samahan niyo ng attitude, makakabalik kayo nang malakas. You have control over yourself — may rehab, may operation, mapapalakas ka niya, but it’s about your outlook along the process. Lalakas at lalakas ang katawan mo, pero ‘yung utak mo ang mahirap palakasin, kaya dapat sabay sila.”

At last, our interview ends. She thanks me for my time, and then I ask her for a picture. She tells me she will be going home to Guimaras during the holidays, the first time in a long time. I tell her to tour around the province as she has never been, and she laughs. 

Before I go, I ask in curiosity if her knee is fully healed; she says yes. I tell her many people — reporters, fans, and teammates alike — still fear for her safety whenever she takes a little while to stand up after a spike. We don’t want to see you get injured again, I say.

She tells me not to worry. Because like a volleyball game, life is full of stumbling and falling down to the ground, she says. But what matters is that we stand back up again. 

How the Philippines is building a hockey future

As the buzzer sounded late afternoon on December 8, fans in attendance showered the SM Mall of Asia Skating Rink with loud cheers and congratulations as the Philippine national men’s hockey team capped the 2019 SEA Games tourney bronze medal with a 17-1 rout of Malaysia.

While the finish was definitely the highlight, what transpired was also a story of the trademark Filipino puso, which, in Filipino sports lingo, pertains to the motivation that drives athletes to overcome adversity. 

Placing third was, of course, not the ideal scenario for the defending champions. They almost swept the elimination rounds with two lopsided victories against Malaysia and Singapore, only to get a taste of their own medicine from eventual champion Thailand, 10-1.

This setback was followed by another, as Singapore avenged themselves with a 4-3 win and prevented back-to-back golds for the Philippines.

Captain Steven Fuglister, the second-leading scorer in the tournament, felt the brunt of these consecutive blows. But the team, he said, had puso on their side.

“We wanted to show a good game for our fans and families. We felt we owed it to them; that was the message in the locker room and the team was able to rally with that,” said Fuglister, who scored four goals against Malaysia.

Pioneers

However, getting a chance at a podium finish was not just the product of fan support. It was also borne out of a solid organization run by passionate Filipino hockey pioneers.

Francois Gautier was one of the first to play ice hockey in the Philippines, starting when he was a kid in 1991. Now executive vice president of Hockey Philippines, Gautier makes sure they are in winning form as a leader both on the team and the organization. 

“Definitely, it didn’t happen overnight. Every year, I talk to a lot of countries on what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “But I can’t say it’s trial and error because what we end up implementing has been proven to work in other countries.”

The country had been competing without an organization to lead them for years. This went on until 2015, when the hockey community pooled enough support to create the Federation of Ice Hockey League (FIHL). After navigating a rigorous process, including getting membership from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), FIHL was able to send the first Filipino ice hockey team to the 2017 SEA Games, winning gold on their first try.

The federation got plenty of support off the bat. The Philippine Sports Commission recognized and helped them navigate processes like registration. The IIHF even provided them gear to use for their training. 

Gautier also frequented IIHF Congresses in various Western countries to learn about what works and what does not for a hockey organization. This year, he said, the Philippines is set to attain an association membership — granting it voting rights for the election of IIHF officers and other important decisions governing the world of hockey.

“It helps that we are led by people who aren’t very political,” Gautier said of FIHL president Christopher Sy. “I myself am not comfortable with politics. I signed up for this to see my sport grow in this country. We’re not gonna throw away what we worked so hard to build over internal political matters.”

Team chemistry

Building chemistry between different personalities and playstyles also did not happen overnight. Most of the athletes currently on the national team have known each other since they were kids. Gautier himself had been playing with forward Sam Bengzon since the ’90s, and both had met defenseman LR Lancero when he first stepped onto the ice at age three.

Most of the men on the team also played in the Philippine Hockey League, established in 2019 not just to develop Filipino hockey talent but also as a requirement to compete for world championships.

“It’s great that we’re friends outside hockey,” Gautier said. “It’s easier to build chemistry on the ice when you already have chemistry off the ice. It’s easier to work the system and work team plays.”

Some of the more recent additions hailed from countries where hockey was more famous. Fuglister came from Europe, while 34-year-old Carlo Tenedero once played for Canada, where modern ice hockey was born. Apart from providing additional firepower for the national team, their imports carry invaluable knowledge of the sport that can be imparted to homegrown players.

Building for the future

But the pioneers can’t carry the team forever, and so Gautier and the local federation are now building for the future. The team has a new coach this year in Yusuke Kondo, and through their grassroots development program, they are hoping to groom young enthusiasts — like Gautier and others before them — for successful careers on ice.

“I think we have a strong talent pipeline coming down. A couple of guys on the junior program are gonna make it to the men’s team in a couple of years,”  Tenedero said. “Sam [Bengzon] and I both have sons in the youth program, trying to get into the game. I think to sustain the sport, we really need that grassroots program.”

As for their next stop, the national team will be competing for the first time in a global tournament in March 2020, joining the IIHF World Championship Division IV battle in Kyrgyzstan. While technically rookies in the world stage, Fuglister likes the team’s chances, buoyed by puso and the support of the Filipino fans throughout their SEA Games run.

“When our legs are heavy, fans carried us with chants and cheers. It’s hard to express how it feels when you hear a whole rink chanting ‘Philippines,’ but it makes you want to run through a brick wall,” Fuglister said.

Despite missing out on crucial stretch, Alyssa Valdez proud to see fight in home team

All the Philippine national women’s volleyball team needed was one final point to bring the country back to the Southeast Asian Games podium. But it never came.

After trailing two sets to one, the home team sought efforts to salvage the country’s bronze medal hopes. In the crucial stretch, Alyssa Valdez watched from the sidelines as the coaching staff reshuffled the lineup, hoping for a better outcome.

The gamble paid off–the national team, built on the intense support of the home crowd, came through with an inspired play against Indonesia in the fourth set to force a decider.

Both teams exchanged points in an intense fifth set, with key players such as Ces Molina, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Eya Laure, and Mika Reyes catching fire for the tricolor squad in the last frontier.

Despite being unable to contribute in their final rally, Valdez cheered her heart out for the team, praying hard that glory would come their way. The home team wanted the win badly–the game was their final chance to bounce back from their winless preliminary round and take home the bronze medal, the country’s first since 2005.

When Molina went off the block to set up match point, 14-12, the whole arena was ready to rejoice. After fourteen years of waiting, the glory was finally within reach.

One step was all the Philippine team needed, just one final blow to end their campaign on a high note. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t align for them.

“It’s really heartbreaking, really frustrating. [Pero] sabi nga nila sa loob kanina, if it’s not for us, if it’s not our time, it’s not our time,” Valdez said.

The Philippines concluded their SEA Games campaign with a heartbreaking five-set loss against Indonesia, 20-25, 26-24, 15-25, 25-20, 14-16, earlier in the battle-for-third match at the Philsports Arena.

Despite holding two match points, the tricolor squad came up short as Indonesia scored four straight points to snatch the bronze medal finish.

Valdez, despite being benched in the latter half of the game, still finished with 14 points to help scoring leader Molina, who tallied 17 markers for the Philippines.

Admitting she could have done more for the home team, Valdez still commended her fellow players for showing a good fight in their last campaign of the year.

“Nanghihinayang, siyempre–when you’re outside, you can’t contribute anything. You just have to pray and really believe,” Valdez said.

 

“But honestly, I’m really happy sa performances ng lahat. Everyone delivered, everyone contributed, and I think ‘yung mga decision ni Coach Shaq, nakita niya kung ano ‘yung mga kailangang gawin ng team at kailangan naming i-adjust,” she added.

While some have questioned the decision to sit Valdez out starting in the fourth set, the volleyball superstar respected the decision, noting the team still fought hard without her in the court.

“Iyon ‘yung best decision na nangyari. Feeling ko mas nakikita naman [ng coaches] kung ano ‘yung mga kailangan ng team.  Maganda rin naman na hanggang dulo, lumaban din ang team,” she said.

With the loss, the Philippines finished last out of four teams, with Indonesia taking third. Thailand asserted their supremacy over the regional tournament anew, ending Vietnam in straight sets to take their twelfth straight championship

SEA Games 2019: Fuglister, Stern pull off four-goal games against Malaysia as PH cops bronze in ice hockey

Team captain Steven Fuglister and Kenneth Stern spearheaded the scoring avalanche for the Philippine Eagles as they took bronze after their 17-1 runaway victory over Malaysia earlier in the 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s ice hockey tournament.

It was a masterful game by the Philippine national men’s ice hockey team who failed to fulfill their title defense after succumbing to Singapore yesterday in a 3-4 loss.

Fuglister and Stern showed dominance for the Eagles as they came up with four goals each to lead the team to a bronze medal finish.

Jann So Tiong scored the opening shot for the host team followed by an LR Lancero goal at the 15:07 mark for an early 2-0 lead. Aro Regencia and Fuglister staged back-to-back goals with three minutes left for a 4-0 blast at the end of the first period.

The Philippine captain shone in the second frame as he pulled off a hat trick in the first seven minutes of the period, while Stern also got his game going with two goals including the closing shot.

Carl Montano also joined the scoring party as he wristed the puck after a minute in the second period, while Lancero registered his second goal of the match as the Philippines led 11 to none.

The Eagles never looked back as they continued their mastery over Malaysia in the third session, with BJ Imperial scoring the country’s twelfth goal. Stern also completed his four-goal game with two shots in the final period, along with contributions from So Tiong, Regencia, and Sam Bengzon.

With the victory, the Philippines concluded the ice hockey tournament in third place with a 4-2 record, their two losses coming from Thailand and Singapore who will face each other in the gold medal match.

 

 

Alyssa Valdez saw limited minutes in game against Indonesia due to stomach illness, says Aby Maraño

The Philippine national women’s volleyball team missed the usual scoring output of Alyssa Valdez in their four-set loss against Indonesia as she was sidetracked by stomach illness, according to team captain Aby Maraño.

Feeling under the weather, the open spiker saw limited time in their game and was reduced to only two points earlier.

“May iniinda siyang masakit. Hindi rin natin gustong pwersahin siya–ang importante sa amin, hindi man siya makalaro, [may]  papalit sa kanya,” Maraño said.

 

“Hindi naman pwedeng nahihirapan na ‘yung player tapos pipilitin–[baka] lalong lumala ‘yung karamdaman. Pero ang maganda naman, nandiyan si Alyssa. Pinipilit niya kahit may nararamdaman siyang masakit,” she added.

The Philippines failed to finish the preliminary round with a win after bowing down to Indonesia, 25-22, 26-28, 22-25, 14-25, earlier at the Philsports Arena.

While the Philippines started strong with an opening set win, the host team committed a string of miscommunication errors in the second set as Indonesia tied the match one set apiece.

The Philippines led at the latter half of the third set, 20-17, but Indonesia retaliated with five straight points to take the lead, pouncing on their momentum to snatch the 2-1 set advantage.

The tricolor squad ultimately lost steam in the fourth set as the visiting team led early to pull away with their first victory of the tournament.

In place of Valdez’s usual production, the trio of Mylene Paat, Ces Molina, and Majoy Baron took charge for the host country as they scored 14, 13, and 12 markers respectively.

The Phenom, who led the Nationals in the past two games, took to Twitter to thank their supporters, saying the fight isn’t over yet for the Philippines.

RELATED – Alyssa Valdez after PH loss to Indonesia: ‘Hindi pa tapos ang laban’

The Philippine team seeks to end their regional tournament campaign on a good note as they face Indonesia anew on Monday for the bronze medal match.

SEA Games 2019: PH men’s ice hockey team drops semis game against Singapore, settles for bronze medal match

The Philippine Eagles bid farewell to their title defense hopes after succumbing to Singapore, 3-4, earlier in the 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s ice hockey tournament at the SM Mall of Asia Skating Rink.

The defending SEA Games champions came up short in the final period with Singapore’s James Kodrowski wristing a game-winner with 21 seconds left.

The host team started strong with goals by captain Steven Fuglister and Francois Gautier at the latter half of the first period to take the lead, 2-0.

However, Singapore responded right back in the second period with Kodrowski and Bryan Lee taking charge to tie the game, 2-all.

The visiting team began the third period with an aggressive play finished by Christopher Wong to take the lead, 3-2.

While EJ Sibug came up with a goal to equalize the game with one minute left, the Philippines ultimately lost steam as Singapore scored their winning goal.

With the loss, the Eagles are relegated to a bronze medal match and will face Malaysia tomorrow.

PH men’s hockey team falls to Thailand in lopsided 1-10 loss, ends prelims in second

The Philippine Eagles end the preliminaries on a bad note after bowing down to Thailand, 1-10, earlier in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games men’s ice hockey tournament at the SM Mall of Asia Ice Skating Rink.

The clash turned out to be a one-sided affair all throughout as Thailand got the best of the Philippine team, who snapped their three-game winning streak and took their first loss of the competition.

The Thais opened the game with a strong first period, wristing three shots on 14 attempts for a 3-0 lead over the host team.

After only four shots on goal in a lethargic opening salvo, the Philippines sought a more aggressive performance in the second session, finally scoring their lone goal of the game courtesy of Carlo Tenedero.

However, Thailand responded with an avalanche of points, tallying three goals in a span of a minute shortly after Tenedero’s point and an additional shot to conclude the second period with the lead, 7-1.

The Philippines ultimately lost steam in the final period as they fell victim to Thailand’s strong defensive game and energetic offense, letting the visiting team score three more goals to end the game with a nine-point deficit, 1-10.

With the loss, the Philippines ends the preliminary round in second place with a 3-1 record, while Thailand currently stands atop the tournament with an untainted 4-0 card.

The Eagles seek to sneak into the final round anew as they face Singapore in the semifinals.

 

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SEA Games 2019: Füglister, Tenedero vow better team showing in clash against Thailand

The Philippine Eagles have stamped their dominance on ice as they stand atop the Southeast Asian Games men’s ice hockey tournament with a currently undefeated record. However, the defending champions have no plans of stopping just yet.

The Philippines overpowered Indonesia last Wednesday, 8-1, to snatch their third win in a row and keep a comfortable spot in the team standings.

But while the Eagles are on a high right now, the team still aspires to push their game higher as they reflect on their previous performances to fix their lapses.

Such as their second period against Indonesia, where the Philippine team failed to score despite aggressive plays every now and then.

Captain Steven Füglister, who scored back-to-back goals in the third period, admitted his team took a while to fully put their system in place.

“I felt like we came out slow. The energy level was a bit low in the first period, but we talked about it in the locker room but then we regrouped and played a strong third period,” he said.

The captain also gave Indonesia’s goalie Sangga Putra who played a strong second period, thwarting all attempts by the Philippine team to wrist the puck in.

“I have to give credit to Indonesia’s goalie, He played a really strong game, I think he stopped over 50 shots which is unheard of,” he said.

Later today, the Eagles will get its acid test against the also-undefeated Thai team, who has yet to give a point away in the tournament.

The game against Thailand holds significant importance not only for momentum purposes, but it would also determine who finishes on top of the competition after the preliminary round.

Carlo Tenedero, who took the opening goal for the Philippines in Wednesday’s game, emphasized the importance of following their system like what they did against Indonesia, especially in the third period.

“They key is just to stick together and follow the system. We talked about the second period; we went to the third period and got our system, and we were able to pull away,” Tenedero said.

With both teams wanting to win their final game of the preliminaries, Füglister hopes for a stronger hustle from his team this time around.

“[It’s] whoever finishes first in the round robin, so it’s an important game. We just have to keep on trying and hustling, and eventually the puck is going to go in,” the captain ended.

 

Sam Bengzon finds his way back to the ice

All the ice around him was not enough to stop hockey forward Samuel James Bengzon from heating up the SM Mall of Asia Skating Rink, in what would go down as one of his best moments in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

With less than six minutes left in the final period and a Singapore goal tying it up two apiece just a minute ago, Bengzon found the barely open ice and went for the kill, hitting his first international competition goal to a wild response from the crowd.

“When I scored that goal, I went straight to where my family was,” he said, recounting how he skated to the glass barricade to share his triumph with his loved ones and fans.

READ — PH men’s hockey team survives Singapore for second win

From his composure at that moment, one could not tell the 30-year-old was not even sure he would be in this arena this year. Go further back to two years ago, and he was not even a hockey player.

Bengzon first found his spot on the ice when he was 10. But at the time, he and his cousins were more interested in figure skating–this was until an old coach approached him and asked if he wanted to try another ice sport.

“I already saw Mighty Ducks and I was a big fan of the movie,” he said of the 1992 Disney hockey film. “Then a few months after, I tried hockey, fell in love with it, and kept playing.”

His Disney fantasy soon became a reality when Bengzon started competing in hockey meets until high school, while also doubling as a varsity baseball player in the process. But just before college, he felt he wanted to have a normal balance of schoolwork and social life, which led him to leave behind his childhood sport.

Instead of picking up his club for training nights like most of his contemporaries, Bengzon spent a decade away from the puck, building a family of his own and getting into the poultry and CrossFit training businesses. Incidentally, being a fitness coach kept him ready to go back into the rink anytime, as it honed his discipline and maintained his athletic form.

“In Crossfit, everything is about trying to learn. It teaches you discipline and knowing yourself,” he said. “So I think it really helps with the hockey aspect; I know myself and I know what I need to work on.”

What ultimately got him back in the fray was his being a dad. Last year, he and his wife were deciding which sport their four-year-old son should play. They settled on ice hockey.

Bengzon eventually realized that the best way to get their child interested in the game was for him to have a role model to look up to. Wanting to play again either way and with the support of his wife and kid, he took a jersey and went back to the rink.

“Most of the time, [my son] would beg to watch us practice. He loves skating, he loves the ice,” he said. “My wife, she knows not to wake me up after a night of hockey, so she brings the kids out of the room just so I don’t wake up.”

It was never going to be easy coming back from a ten-year hiatus, but Bengzon caught up with invaluable help from his teammates, who were kind enough to spend extra sessions outside of their weekly routine training him on the ice. He regained his form just in time for this year’s IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, helping his team lead group A of the preliminary round and finish silver against the once 45th-ranked team in the world, Mongolia.

“It’s really nice to have Sam as part of our team, because ever since I was really young, he’s actually the one I look up to in the ice. The guy’s my idol,” said defenseman LR Lancero. Bengzon, during his first hockey run, was there when Lancero took his first step on the rink at three years old.

 

“He’s a guy that I trust and depend on, not just him but all of my teammates, because it’s really good to have someone behind your back to support you,” he added.

Now in the thick of his first SEA Games stint and with two international goals in winning games, Bengzon’s focus is to keep at it as his team faces powerhouse Thailand — which has not allowed a single goal from opposing teams.

What gives them confidence, he said, is a home court advantage like nothing any of them had seen.

“Thank you for all your support so far, the Facebook messages, the reposts. After the first win, I spent an hour before going to sleep just thanking everyone,” Bengzon said. “It really helped. Every small message like, ‘good job,’ we remember it.”

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Jia Morado, Rhea Dimaculangan cherish playing with Nootsara Tomkom

To go up against a legend is a dream come true for any up-and-coming athlete.

For setters Jia Morado and Rhea Dimaculangan, their meeting against Thailand held a special significance, as it might be one of the last games of renowned playmaker Nootsara Tomkom.

The 34-year-old setter is hailed as one of the best players to ever don the Thai jersey, proven by her various individual awards and championships both with Thailand and her professional club teams.

Tomkom is rumored to step down from the national team together with other veterans Pleumjit Thinkaow, Onuma Sittirak, Malika Kanthong, and Wilavan Apinyapong, after their campaign for an elusive Olympic stint.

While Dimaculangan has never played against the Thai setter in previous international tournaments, Morado had a short opportunity to go up against Tomkom in last year’s Asian Games, meeting at opposite sides of the court in the third set of their opening game.

So for the Philippine setters, it is probably their last chance to face the legend and leave a good impression.

But while the Philippine national women’s volleyball team concluded their gallant stand against Thailand with a straight-set loss, both Morado and Dimaculangan felt like victors as they got the chance to play against Tomkom before her possible retirement from the national team.

The current Petron Blaze Spiker admitted she was in awe playing against the Thai playmaker, who finished with 24 excellent sets against the Philippines.

“Actually, nakaka-starstruck kanina kasi parang siya ‘yung number one setter, ‘di ba, so parang nakakatuwa din kasi kahit papaano, kaya naming makipagsabayan,” Dimaculangan said.

 

“Tao rin pala siya na nagkakamali,” the setter added jokingly.

Morado, meanwhile, didn’t hide her emotions after playing against her most admired player. Despite feeling overwhelmed, the Creamline setter made sure to stay cool and composed, reminding herself not to compare herself to the Thai setter and just play her game instead.

“Kung tatapat ka sa ganoong kagaling na setter, hindi mo pwedeng isipin na mas mababa ka maglaro–kailangan isipin mo na hindi mo siya susubukang pantayan, pero susubukan mong ipakita ‘yung best na kaya mong gawin,” Morado said.

 

“Pero siyempre may konting kilig pa rin. Same air din kami ng hinihinga,” she added excitedly.

The Philippines started the match on a bad note as Thailand easily took the opening salvo, but the fight started going for the host country at the last stretch of the second salvo despite the two-set deficit.

The tricolor squad gave the visiting team a set to remember in the third frame, as the Philippines fought five consecutive match points and even staged a set point.

Both teams exchanged plays in the extension, but the home team ultimately fell short as a broken play from Apinyapong ended the game in favor of Thailand.

Morado surely relished her time going up against Tomkom and the Thai national team, noting that every game against them is a learning experience for the whole tricolor squad.

“Kahit sinong kalaban namin sa kabila ng court, natututo kami, so what more for me and Ate Rhea learning from how Nootsara moves and kahit kay Pornpun kahit nung pinasok siya. I’m proud na nilabanan namin siya, and we really did our best,” Morado said.

 

“Kahit papaano, pinawisan naman ata sila, pero mas masakit mga katawan natin,” she ended on a light note.

Aby Maraño, PH spikers hope to make lasting impression on Thai legends

With their opening day loss against Vietnam, the Philippine national women’s volleyball team needs an all-important win over powerhouse Thailand if they want a better standing in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.

One loss away from a gold medal chance in the regional tournament, the Nationals find their backs against the wall as they try to snatch a victory over the 11-peat SEA Games champions. It would be a tough mountain to climb for the tricolor squad though, as the Thais have been dominant in the region for quite a long time.

For Aby Maraño, however, the game holds significance as it might be the last time the Philippine squad could play against Thailand’s greats, including Pleumjit Thinkaow, Onuma Sittirak, Nootsara Tomkom, Wilavan Apinyapong, and Malika Kanthong, who are all rumored to retire from the national team after their campaign for an elusive Olympic stint.

The team captain said she wants the team to go all out and give the Thai legends a good fight.

“Susulitin namin siyempre kung last playing year na rin nila Pleumjit, Nootsara, and Wilavan. Why not makipagbakbakan kami doon?” Maraño said.

 

“At least matapos man ‘yung career nila, tumatak man lang sa isip nila na itong mga players ng Pilipinas, nag-improve na ‘to from the first time na nakita namin silang maglaro ng volleyball since 2015 sa SEA Games,” she added.

While their game later would prove challenging, hopes are up for the Philippine team as they bank on their experience against the Thais in the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix, where they were able to get a set in the first leg.

“Last ASEAN Grand Prix, nakakuha kami ng isang set sa kanila. So ibig sabihin, kaya, may pag-asa,” Maraño said.

Maraño and the rest of the tricolor squad look to emerge victorious later as they seek to finish in the top two of the preliminary round for a chance at gold.

SEA Games 2019: PH men’s ice hockey team dominates Indonesia to stay undefeated

The Philippine Eagles remain perfect in their title defense campaign after overpowering Indonesia, 8-1, earlier in the 30th Southeast Asian Games ice hockey tournament at the SM Mall of Asia Ice Skating Rink.

The game proved to be a better showing for the Philippine men’s ice hockey team coming from their tight 5-3 win over Singapore yesterday.

The Philippines started strong in the opening salvo with Carl Tenedero wristing an early shot at the 19:01 mark to draw first blood, followed by a goal by Kenneth Stern at the 13:15 mark for a 2-0 lead in the first period.

However, the second period saw the Eagles struggle on offense with their various power plays all thwarted by Indonesia’s goalie Sangga Putra.

The visiting team scored a goal at the 7:16 mark to get on the board, but the Philippines still held the lead after the second period, 2-1.

The third period turned out to be a different story for the Eagles as Aro Regencia’s early goal sparked a scoring avalanche for the host country, with captain Steven Fuglister tallying back-to-back goals for a 5-1 lead.

It was all Team Philippines from then on, with Tenedero, Miguel Relampagos, and Sam Bengzon attending the goal-fest at the final stretch of the third period.

With the win, the Eagles remain undefeated in the tournament with a 3-0 record.

The Philippine men’s ice hockey team looks to pounce on their three-game winning streak as they face Thailand on Friday.

Alyssa Valdez relishes playing against former teammate T4

Both heralded as top players in their respective countries, Alyssa Valdez and Tran Thi Thanh Thuy met at the top anew to bring glory to their homeland.

Tran, popularly known as T4, has been the center of the Vietnamese squad with her lethal offense and her steady overall game. Valdez, too, shares the same narrative, serving as the Philippine team’s most consistent scorer.

Both players are no strangers to each other, as they already faced numerous times in previous international tilts. But competition isn’t the only thing connecting the two volleyball superstars, as they are also good friends after suiting up for the Chinese-Taipei club team Attack Line back in 2017.

In the opening game of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games women’s volleyball tournament yesterday, the Vietnamese ace took the last laugh as her team survived the Philippines in five sets to take the win.

Valdez and Tran took the spotlight in the opening day, exchanging monstrous attacks and leading their squads all throughout the game.

Both players took center stage for their respective teams as they finished as the game’s top scorers–Tran delivered 27 points atop a triple-double performance, while Valdez registered 22 points built on a double-double game.

While the tricolor squad failed to start their title campaign on a good note, Valdez admitted her joy going up against her former teammate who fought hard for her country.

“When it’s game time, it’s game time. [With] T4, we can see on her face na talagang lalaban siya at ipaglalaban niya ‘yung bansa niya. Same din naman sa akin, na para sa Pilipinas at para sa team ko,” Valdez said.

In a post-game interview, Tran said she is open to playing in the country if given the opportunity.

“If given a chance in the future, I’m open to playing here. I can go here and play for any team here in the Philippines,” she said.

READ — Vietnam’s T4 open to playing volleyball in the Philippines

If the stars aligned just right, Valdez and Tran might be wreaking havoc alongside each other once more. But that would have to wait, as the Vietnamese ace is currently a part of the Japanese club team Denso Airybees in the Japan V. Premier League.

Vietnam’s T4 open to playing volleyball in the Philippines

The home crowd may have had their hearts broken after the Philippine national women’s volleyball team lost their first game against Vietnam, but Filipinos are humble enough to recognize greatness when they see one.

The Nationals fought bravely despite their opening day loss, striking early in the first set and coming through in the fourth set, tying the game two sets apiece to force a decider.

But the final frame proved too much for the tricolor squad, as Vietnam banked on their net defense to pull away in the latter part of the set and take the win.

Despite the loss, sports fans were treated to amazing volleyball as they cheered and showed respect for both teams with every play made and point won.

Such was the case for Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, who served as the anchor of the Vietnamese team to take their first win.

Popularly known as T4, the 6-foot-4 open spiker registered 27 points atop a triple-double game to lift Vietnam, delivering one monstrous kill after another which left the crowd in awe every single time.

With the intense and supportive volleyball atmosphere in the Philippines as seen yesterday, the Vietnamese ace revealed she is open to the idea of playing in the country if presented the opportunity.

“If given a chance in the future, I’m open to playing here. I can go here and play for any team here in the Philippines,” the open spiker said.

That would have to wait though, as she is currently a part of the Japanese club team Denso Airybees in the Japan V. Premier League.

While Tran missed the second leg of the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix due to her club team commitments, her current Japan stint helped her to develop her game further, bringing that experience to the national team.

“I went there to improve my defense and game. I think I improved a lot during my stay there,” the open spiker said.

Tran is no stranger to Philippine volleyball as both teams have faced numerous times in international tournaments. She also previously played alongside Alyssa Valdez for Attack Line VC in the Chinese-Taipei Volleyball League.