On a Saturday night inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Rhea Dimaculangan stood at the center of the arena, giddy with excitement and joy.
Her squad, Petron Blaze Spikers, is only a point shy from winning another PSL Grand Prix title. And although they can already smell the championship with the score at 24-18, they also know that F2 Logistics is capable of making a run.
Dimaculangan took a deep breath, calming her nerves and refocusing her mind. Nothing is cast in stone yet, she thought.
Kim Fajardo, a lethally good server, released the ball from the service line. Lindsay Stalzer’s reception on the wayward serve went a little off, forcing Dimaculangan to run after the ball.
In the split second before she tossed the ball for her attacker, Dimaculangan was thrown back to UST’s championship moment in UAAP 72. Eight long years have passed yet she can still remember how sweet that victory was.
Back in the present, Dimculangan tossed the ball for Katherine Bell and let the spiker do the rest. Bell didn’t prolong the championship moment and buried an emphatic kill to end the dramatic Finals series.
As the confetti rained down on the newly-crowned champions, Dimaculangan was lost in a sea of people who are either teary-eyed, wear face-splitting grins or both.
— Philippine SuperLiga Volleyball (@SuperLigaPH) May 5, 2018
It was like watching every winning moment she had ever been – played all at once.
And it never would have happened without Dimaculangan, an unsung hero.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Dimaculangan is one of those players who started as promising rookies and ended their UAAP careers as notable veterans.
The Batangas-native suit up with Hannah Mance as rookies for UST Golden Tigresses in season 70. With Denise Tan, season 69 Best Setter, still in the tiger’s den, Dimaculangan saw limited minutes inside the court.
The following season, the España-based squad was tipped yet again to win another UAAP title despite losing Venus Bernal and Mary Jean Balse, who exhausted their playing years, and Angeli Tabaquero, who was out due to personal reasons.
Aiza Maizo and Tan were touted to carry the offensive cudgels alongside sophomore Dimaculangan and Mance and newcomers Judy Caballejo and Maika Ortiz.
In a stunning twist of fate, Tan sustained an injury that prompted Dimaculangan to orchestrate the play for the black-and-yellow squad as starting setter.
Dimaculangan, born ready, took the challenge and didn’t disappoint.
On her first year as starter, the spiker-turned-setter already developed chemistry with the hardhitting Maizo and Ortiz – a chemistry that eventually blossomed into one of the deadliest setter-spiker combinations.
The young setter managed to set up UST’s spikers, especially their middle blockers Ortiz and Mance, precisely and accurately despite the squad’s reception woes that season.
Although UST failed to cop the gold that season, it was, for Dimaculangan, the start of her rise.
Since then, Dimaculangan has proven time and again that she is a gem of a talent.
She was part of the UST squad who achieved “Grand Slam” circa 2009-2010 after sweeping the two conferences of Shakey’s V-League season 6, 2009 University Games and UAAP 72.
During her stay in España, she helped UST win its last UAAP title to date in season 72 where she was also awarded as Best Server and Finals MVP.
That same season, Dimaculangan, with her loaded serves, made a historic 17 straight points run from the service line during UST’s match against UE Lady Warriors – a record that is yet to be beaten until today.
The wise setter lead the Tigresses to its last Finals appearance in UAAP the following year, and skippered the squad in her final year donning the black-and-yellow jersey.
She may not have won a single Best Setter accolade in college, but her career post-UAAP says otherwise.
In 2014, Dimaculangan further cemented herself as one of the greatest playmakers UST and the country ever produced.
Bannering for Philippine Air Force, the seasoned setter won the Best Setter plums in three major tournaments namely Philippine Superliga, Philippine National Games and SVL.
Dimaculangan, arguably, is the winningest setter in the Philippines with a total of 12 championship titles under her belt.
What sets Dimaculangan apart from other setters, aside from her long lost of achievements, is her uncanny ability to adjust her sets accordingly to the spiker’s taste without breaking the tempo of the team.
She can throw moon-high sets and low, fast sets next in a blink of an eye, making spikers like Mika Reyes, Ces Molina and Rem Palma to name a few look good.
Not all setter is capable of that. Dimaculangan, though, can do it any time of the day.
NATIONAL TEAM WORTHY
Legendary coach Ramil de Jesus of DLSU Lady Spikers will call the shots for the national team this year as it seeks resurgence in the international arena.
Thirty-four (34) volleybelles were invited to tryout for a spot in 25-man pool that the noted tactician aims to build. Among the invited players to campaign for the country is Dimaculangan.
Dimaculangan is no stranger to international tourneys.
The 27-year old setter has been a household name to banner the country since 2013.
In 2015 and 2017, Dimaculangan was tapped to reinforce Philippines’ SEA Games campaigns. She also donned the national colors in Asian Women’s Club Championship 2016 and 2017, playing with Foton Tornadoes and PSL All Stars, respectively.
Just recently, the prized setter won bronze – the first medal of the Philippines in an international tournament since 2005 – with PSL All Stars during the 2017 Annual Princess Maja Chakri Sirindhorn’s Cup.
She was known for her well-placed, floater serves that even the award-winning mentor has had problems dealing with in the past, especially in their season 72 loss against UST.
With the emergence of Fajardo, Jia Morado and Jas Nabor as the young setters of this generation, it’s easier to set aside the goods that a setter like Dimaculangan can bring to the team – to the national team.
Her exceptional decision-making skills, height, loaded serves and versatility in setting alone guarantee that Dimaculangan is always going to be an asset to any squad she plays for, club or national.
Dimaculangan may not have been the center of limelight everytime her teams win, but she weaves her magic and works silently yet efficiently from the background.
She is like wine: she gets better and better with time.
If and when Dimaculangan was chosen for the national team again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
She is real. She is here. And, she is always ready.