Day of the Jackals

Smart-Araneta Coliseum
April 30, 2016
Day of the Jackals

Today is the day.
Ateneo and La Salle will play one last time for the UAAP women’s volleyball title at the Big Dome.
Tickets are all sold out.
But expect a packed venue. I’m guessing it will be record-breaking numbers, more than the 20,000-plus thousands that came to see Game Two.
Alyssa Valdez will play her last game.
So did Mika Reyes.
Two popular voleyball personalities whose lives are intertwined by fate, perhaps destiny.
No analysis nor numbers can predict a Game Three. None. All I can say is this is not for the faint-hearted. So I will shut my mouth and just say may the best team wins. May it be La Salle. Or Ateneo. You both deserve the title.
You gave us fans more than what we want. It can’t get any better than this: Ateneo and La Salle battling for all the marbles in a deciding game.
So good luck.
And may all the players suiting up one last time for their respective schools end up with a great career outside college.
Yes you Alyssa Valdez.
And you too Mika Reyes.
I will end this blog with this one story by my Philippine STAR sports editor and mentor, Lito Tacujan titled “Killing climax.”
So Enjoy.

One last dance. One last cry. Revenge. Redemption. Renewal of faith.
A fitting end to a tremendous season where fortunes of the crowded line of pretenders twisted and turned until there was only the bitter rivals standing to contend for the precious crown.
It can’t get better than this.
Ateneo and La Salle clash for the UAAP women’s volleyball plum at 3 p.m. at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in a match that has all the ingredients of an expected thriller.
Consider: The two rivals are to put a closure to a gut-wrenching five-year run where they split two championships each, leading the decorated skipper of the Lady Eagles to brand this do-or-die a virtual fifth setter where they eyeball-to-eyeball each other to the last point.
No quarters asked or given. They are equal to the last woman. And their confrontations in this Season 78 of the UAAP have been laced with drama and suspense, building up to mortal showdown before another huge crowd clad in green and blue.
The Lady Spikers shocked the Lady Eagles in three sets, 25-22, 25-14, 25-18, in the first round, but the Ateneo belles, led by three-time MVP Alyssa Valdez, evened up with a crisp five-setter in the second round, 21-25, 25-22, 25-16, 21-25, 15-5.
And as if written in the stars, La Salle endured a Final Four duel with FEU but instead of hobbling to the edge of a burnout, the Lady Spikers came out in full steam and swept the Lady Eagles in Game One of the title series, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21.
Then Ateneo came back from the dead and took game two from two sets down, 18-25, 26-28, 25-17, 25-16, 15-11.
That set the stage for this mother of all battles today for the women’s crown.
And to further hype up the match, the megastars of the two teams – Valdez, teammates Amy Ahomiro and Mary Mae Tajima and La Salle’s Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, Cyd Thealee Demecillo and Carol Ann Cerveza – are to play their farewell game.
That makes this one last contest doubly significant,.Which team would be blessed with a niche in history while the others wallow in misfortunes in the other side?
But no matter. They will leave this league all winners for what the rivalry of these young women has done to further the cause of the sport and for the white-knuckle passion, heart and will they have dished out to reach this ‘killing climax’.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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Photos courtesy of Volleyball.PH.

Please win Ateneo

Ateneo Campus, Quezon City
April 26, 2016
Please Win Ateneo

This is a story of life.
It happened more than a decade ago. I was here at this exact same place where my youngest brother, Jerson Villar, graduated from college in this Jesuit-ran school with a degree in BS Biology.
Stop there.
I’m not here to tell you that we’re rich and we can pay our way to an expensive school like Ateneo. It’s the other way around, in fact. I studied at a State-run university as an athletic scholar (chess) while my siblings attended private colleges way, way cheaper than Ateneo. My parents, in fact, were buried in debt just supporting our education but with the grace from Up There, we all managed to pull through.
Iton, as we fondly called Jerson, is a product of Ateneo’s “Tulong Dunong,” a program giving scholarships to poor but intelligently deserving students from select public schools. In the case of Iton, he studied in an elementary public school in Marikina City and graduated with honors. He passed the exams required and mercifully made it to Ateneo, which shouldered practically everything. Of course, there is a catch. He needs to pass the school’s stringent academic requirements year after year and along the way, return to public schools to teach younger children.
What’s extra-ordinary about Iton is that he played for Ateneo’s high school volleyball team during that same span. The time when there was still no support for athletes like him. It was the dark ages for Ateneo volleyball back then. He played for the school just for the love of the game.
He graduated by juggling both volleyball and his academics.
He never pursued volleyball in college and just concentrated on his studies. Yes, in Ateneo again as an academic scholar. Passed it all with flying colors.
He wanted to pursue medicine but we have no money to support him. He decided to teach instead.
He passed away five years ago at a very young age of 25 years old.
April 27, 2011. The day, my elder brother, Kuya Jojo, and I whispered in his ear on his deathbed that it’s okay to rest now because we know deep in our hearts he wanted to return every good thing our parents did to him. We knew him as a stubborn person, a fighter. He would have wanted to live and be with our Mama and Papa in their old age. But we knew he could no longer hold on. My exact words to him: “Sige na tol, pahinga ka na. Kami na bahala kina Mama at Papa.” After that, we saw his eyes shedding tears. And then he was gone.
He died with a broken heart.
If he was still alive today, he would have tirelessly cheered for Ateneo, his alma mater. I’m sure he would have adored, perhaps worship, Alyssa Valdez, one of the greatest athletes Ateneo produced. He would have jumped with joy at every championship Valdez and the Lady Eagles won. Perhaps, he would debate me about my proclamation of La Salle’s Kim Fajardo as best setter. He would have stubbornly insist Jia Morado should be it. His heart would have been shattered watching Ateneo lose to La Salle in Game One. So I have a plea. Please win Ateneo.
I know I’m just a voice in the wilderness.
But please Ateneo, win.
Just for this once, win.
It would have put a smile on Iton’s face.

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Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

Color Blind

Cubao, Quezon City
April 22, 2016
Color Blind

What is your favorite color?
Or let me be a little more specific: which of these two colors do you like better, blue or green?
I ask this because in a few hours, we will all be witnesses to what we all expect to turn out a classic. It’s Ateneo versus La Salle, ladies and gentlemen, battling it out in a best-of-three showdown for the UAAP women’s volleyball championship at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum where I’m sure it will be flooded by an ocean of blue and green.
Us, writers, journalist and bloggers alike, are usually color-blind. At least most of us are, as far as I know.
Whatever, a finals will never be complete without a fearless forecast. And I’ve decided to join the fun.
And let me break it down to you each and lay down every aspect possible and do the volleyball math before we make predictions.

Championship experience: La Salle has made it to the finals eight straight times and winning four titles along the way. Ateneo is on its fifth straight finals stint, losing the first two duels to its chief rival before seizing the next two to level their head-to-head championship duel. It’s almost pretty even. But I give this to the one that won more titles and made it to the finals more times in the last decade.

And it’s La Salle.

Go-to-player(s): If there’s someone who can be considered as the person La Salle goes to in the most difficult of times, it has got to be Kim Fajardo. But if you have an Alyssa Valdez, this year’s MVP (Ooops, spoiler alert!!!) and the single best attacking weapon in the country today, you have got to be a little confident out there.
So it’s Ateneo.

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Depth: It’s actually pretty even as both Ateneo’s Tai Bundit and La Salle’s Ramil de Jesus rely heavily on a tight player rotation. De Jesus though has been dipping his hands to his magic box and has alternately summoned the likes of Maria Mikaela Esperanza, May Luna, Ernestibe Tiamzon and Christine Joy Soyud from the bench for some quality minutes including in its two Final Four duels with Far Eastern U. It didn’t help Ateneo that it is missing the services of Madie Madayag due to injury, depriving it of one added weapon to throw La Salle off guard.
La Salle, but very rather very slightly.

Defense: The league’s best blockers are from the Lady Archers–Mary Joy Baron and Mika Reyes. Ateneo is distant second in this department. There is also no contest that La Salle is the best receiving and digging team in the league combined. It is also noticeable that Ateneo is sixth in digging, which will mean a lot in a showdown of this magnitude where single play counts.
So yes, La Salle owns this by a mile.

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Offense: Two words–Alyssa Valdez. One equivalent: End of the World.
Ateneo by an ocean.

Setter: This has been a never-ending debate since the start of this season when I declared without batting an eyelash that Kim Fajardo will be the league’s best setter. As always, I was right. Fajardo proved me right. If Morado can outplay her the way she did in their second round match in the eliminations, it will tip victory to the side of Ateneo. But as we speak, Fajardo has never wavered.
La Salle.

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Hunger: Valdez has never lost her appetite for a championship. I think the whole of Ateneo too. But I think La Salle will be hungrier considering that it has lost to Ateneo the last two seasons and they will use it as motivation in Ateneo-La Salle V.
La Salle.

Coaches: Ramil de Jesus is one of the best volleyball coaches out there. He’s got the experience and I rank him in the top three best local mentors in the land. However, Tai Bundit has more international experience and has translated it to twin championships in the UAAP. And he doesn’t even speak a lot of English.
Ateneo.

X-Factor: I like how Cyd Demecillo play. She does some of the dirty work. But she’s a little bit inconsistent. And I like Amy Ahomiro more. She does things that can not be seen in the stat sheets. She is Ateneo’s silent but effective worker. She’ll do things in the finals that will hurt La Salle. If there is an award for Ms. Intangibles, Ahomiro has my vote.
Ateneo.

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Sportsmaryosep’s Prognosis: There is no favorites nor underdogs in this series. I say it’s a toss. My heart beats for Ateneo while my head is screaming La Salle. I’m a numbers guy, after all. And usually, I go with science and what I think.
Looking at above, it’s La Salle 5, Ateneo 4.
So it’s La Salle, by a mere hairline.
Or I could be wrong. Because we’re all just mere mortals, a tiny speck in the vastness of this universe. So believe what you believe, keep the faith and follow it. Somewhere, somehow, it could be the difference between victory and defeat.
In the end, it will boil down to heart, something that is impossible to measure. The team that will show a lot of it will win it. It could be La Salle. Or Ateneo.
To end, let me share this famous quote by Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich that I always believed in. As in always.
“We had non-believers all along the way, and I have one thing to say to those non-believers: Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion!”

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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Photos courtesy of Leo Lopez and Volleyball Ph!