Jema Galanza comes out of the shadows

In a lineup filled with volleyball standouts, Jema Galanza had to take the backseat at times and share the limelight with her equally talented counterparts. But she didn’t mind it—for her, being part of a team made for greatness was enough.

Mostly comprised of former UAAP stars, the Creamline Cool Smashers are undeniably built for championships. In their debut season in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) back in 2017, the pink-clad squad already had Alyssa Valdez and Pau Soriano at their offensive core.

A former collegiate star herself, Galanza was not a stranger to the bright lights as she shone with the Adamson University Lady Falcons, playing alongside the likes of Bang Pineda, Mylene Paat, and Joy Dacoron. However, professional volleyball was a whole new ball game–players not only contend with opposing club teams, but also compete for maximum playing time in their own squad.

When the Cool Smashers started their Reinforced Conference campaign that year, Galanza was already part of the lineup. She, however, had to come off the bench since the squad was shored up by the presence of imports Kuttika Kaewpin and Laura Schaudt who play the same position as hers. Galanza was seen doing the opposite spiker chores – not her natural position.

The team went on to clinch third place, falling short of the finals after bowing down to the Balipure Purest Water Defenders in their semifinal skirmish.

Then came decorated playmaker Jia Morado in the following Open Conference, but Galanza played for the Lady Falcons; there, she shone as the team captain and the team’s main offensive option. But when she returned the following year to Creamline, the 5-foot-7 open spiker met intense competition for the starting six.

In 2018, the pink-clad squad acquired Michele Gumabao, Melissa Gohing, and Risa Sato. These three players proved crucial in Creamline’s impending rise—Gumabao and Gohing were teammates in Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors that achieved back-to-back titles in 2016, while Sato was part of the Balipure team who won the 2017 Open Conference.

Galanza had to sit out again for most of the Reinforced Conference that year, with Kaewpin and Schaudt returning for another tour of duty for Creamline – this time as champions.

Then came the 2018 Open Conference, where she finally got the opportunity to play as one of the starting open spikers for the Cool Smashers. The tournament saw what Galanza can bring for the team, evident with her 2nd Best Open Spiker award—just behind Valdez who finished as the 1st Best Open Spiker and the Conference Most Valuable Player (MVP).

When she had to see limited time anew in this year’s Reinforced Conference, curiosity arose—not about her talent, but what she had to do to break away from the shadows of her more senior counterparts. There has been no doubt about what she can bring to the table, but the whole extent of her capabilities had been delayed and concealed by arguably brighter stars.

Galanza has always been a team player, but her time to shine was inevitable. Sometimes, all a player needs is one big break, that one chance to show everyone what they’re made of.

It wasn’t until the recent 2019 Premier Volleyball League Open Conference that she finally unleashed her true potential.

Galanza emerged as Creamline’s best player in the tournament, leading her team with 226 points built on a 14.13 average points per game after the elimination round. She also finished in the top ten of four skill departments—spiking, serving, digging, and receiving—for a complete all-around game.

Hitting various triple-double outings in their undefeated title campaign, the open spiker made a strong case for individual recognition—and she got it. Galanza took one of the Best Open Spiker awards and the highly-coveted Conference MVP plum—the first in her career.

READ — Jema Galanza snags MVP plum to lead 2019 Open Conference awardees

But while she was happy with her efforts being recognized in arguably her best tournament so far, Galanza never pined for the individual accolades and always had her eyes on the prize—the Open Conference crown.

“Para sa akin naman po, sobrang sarap sa pakiramdam kasi lahat ng pinaghirapan ng team at pinaghihirapan ko, may nangyayari. [Pero] mas happy ako pag nag-champion kami,” the open spiker said after their Game One win.

READ — Jema Galanza shrugs off personal milestone: “Mas happy ako pag nag-champion kami”

Their perfect run all the way to the finals culminated in their successful title defense, overpowering the Petro Gazz Angels in their best-of-three title series to take the championship.

Galanza’s tournament-long heroics have been praised by her teammates, with Valdez commending her growth with the Cool Smashers, noting her maturity and reliability, especially in important games.

“Jema really matured from the first time I get to be with her as a teammate. Iba na ‘yung growth niya as a player and as an individual. Napakita niya iyon sa game, na kapag end game, alam mong lalaban na talaga,” the team captain said.

For Galanza, nothing beats the feeling of winning as a team after all the sacrifices they’ve made in their pursuit of dominance.

“Lahat ng pagod namin, worth it. ‘Yung sakripisyo namin sa araw-araw na gumigising kami ng 5 AM—meron pang 4:00 AM—ito ang nangyari sa lahat ng ginawa namin,” she said.

The open spiker also thanked head coach Tai Bundit for training her to be the best player she can be, saying all the hardships were all worth it.

“Last year pa sobra yung pagod ko kay Coach Tai sa training—umiiyak ako sa kanya, sumasakit ang ankle ko lagi sa kanya. lahat ng paghihirap naranasan ko sa kanya. Now nakikita ko na nagi-improve ako, [kaya] sobrang thankful ko kay Coach Tai,” Galanza said.

For a player like Galanza who waited a long time to have her moment in the sun, nothing is sweeter than achieving success not just for herself but for her squad. A testament that hard work and perseverance pay off in the end, Galanza proved in her time that she is her own, not a player in the periphery.

There is no stopping her in reaching greater heights. But for now, she’ll soak in the glory.