Far from playing under the bright lights, these ex-UP spikers find calling at TIP

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

This will probably be one’s first thought upon seeing former UP spikers Alyssa Layug and Sheeka Espinosa playing for TIP in a non-televised tournament at the Colegio de San Lorenzo gym.

There is no airconditioning. The venue is enough to accommodate 300 people at most. No blinding lights. No cameras flashing. No drums to pump them up. No pep squad. No fans cheering their hearts out.

The duo, in short, is no longer in Kansas (or the UAAP, for this matter).

For Espinosa, who was recruited at the Palarong Pambansa in Dumaguete, the start of her spiralling interest in keeping up with her academics was the end of her UAAP career.

“Sa akin, nagkaproblema sa grades kaya ako nawala. Siyempre parang bago lang ako sa UP. Na-culture shock tapos medyo tinatamad. Hobby ko kasing matulog. Dun ako nadale,” admitted the Misamis Oriental native.

A batchmate of Espinosa, Layug, who turned heads when she debuted in the UAAP with her unorthodox way of serving, suffered from the same fate.

It turns out, getting into UP was much easier than getting out with a diploma.

“Sobrang struggle na pagsabayin ‘yung acads tsaka ‘yung training. Sobrang patayan ‘yung training so pagod ka na halos ayaw mo na gumising ng maaga,” Layug shared. “Sa first training namin hindi na kami makatayo tapos ang dorm namin nasa fifth floor. Ang daming nakatingin sa’yo na akala mo kilalang kilala ka nila. Sobra silang manghusga.”

If you stay long enough to watch the game closely, however, you’d see smiles plastered on the faces of the Lady Engineers in spite of the underwhelming attendance.

They don’t have a patented way of celebrating a point. In fact, they just high five each other and then to recognize a teammate’s effort before returning to business in winning the match.

Why transfer to TIP? There were other offers, according to Espinosa and Layug. But they trust only one person and that’s UP head coach Jerry Yee, who also happens to be the head of the Manila-based squad’s volleyball program.

“Napunta ako sa TIP kasi gawa din ni coach Jerry. May utang na loob ako kay coach Jerry kaya pinili ko dito pumunta. May ibang options naman po noon pero okay naman po ako dito ngayon,” Espinosa told FOX Sports.

The decision on whether to return to Manila and enroll in TIP or stay in Iligan was a little more complicated for Layug.

“Dapat hindi na po talaga ako babalik. Pero hindi po ako tinigilan ni coach Jerry,” she said. “Sabi niya ang loser ko kung hindi ako babalik. ‘Yun lang po ang tinandaan ko. Siyempre champion team ako nung high school. Ayaw ko maging loser.”

It has been more than two years since Espinosa and Layug bid the Lady Maroons goodbye.

And up to this day, they admit to still feeling a little bit of regret.

“It took me one year pero po naka-move on na ako. Nung umalis ako ng UP, bumalik ako ng probinsya at nag-isip ako. Sayang eh. Dapat ganito, dapat ganyan,” Layug said. “Pero ngayon, tinanggap naman ako ng TIP. Ang dami kong friends. Mas nafi-feel ko ‘yung family ko dito.”

On Espinosa’s part, admitting feeling regret now just serves as a reminder of what and how to do better in her second lease in life as a student-athlete.

“Ako, sobrang nagsisisi ako kasi sayang talaga eh. Pero moving forward dapat tayo. Move on, move on lang din. Salamat na lang may TIP talaga. Soon makaka-graduate na ako,” she shared.

It took them time but Espinosa and Layug have now figured out how to balance their dual lives as the former nears finishing her degree in business management while the latter is looking forward to getter her AB English degree.

As painful as it is to look back at the past and watch the present unfold for their erstwhile squad UP, who has become a force to be reckoned with over the last three years, the partners in crime has their hearts filled with gratitude for Yee and TIP.

“Nagpapasalamat ako ng langit hanggang lupa sa TIP at kay coach Jerry,” said Espinosa. “Nagbabago naman na ako. Hindi nila ako binibitawan. Kaya sobrang nagpapasalamat ako kasi nakakatulong sa pamilya ko na nasa probinsya.”

Sharing the same sentiments, Layug says: “Sobrang thankful ako kay coach Jerry at TIP. Hindi po nila ako binitawan.”

“Si coach para na nga po siyang tatay sa amin,” she added. “Hands on po siya sa amin kahit na nasa UP siya. Lagi po niya kaming chine-check. ‘Yung attitude kasi namin ang binabantayan at inaayos niya.”

TIP and the tournaments it joins are far from UP and the UAAP.

There are no TV crews, no reporters and no fans asking for photos.

Yet somehow, Espinosa, Layug and the rest of the Lady Engineers get to live their dreams of playing volleyball while getting free education en route to a better future.

Putting things in perspective, Espinosa says: “Chill lang ‘yung sa amin eh. Sa iba kasi sobrang wild sila. Hindi naman po about crowd lang eh. Mas more po about sa passion mo at nagagawa mong maglaro.”

TIP is not UP. But for those like Espinosa and Layug whose dreams of making it big was cut short, TIP is synonymous to second chances. TIP is home.

“Nage-enjoy lang naman kami. Gusto lang namin maglaro,” closed Layug.