Perhaps the tightest, most solid volleyball program in the country today is La Salle. The Lady Spikers have proven their mettle as an elite organization when they dominated the past decade with an overwhelming amount of UAAP crowns. Recently, they took the Philippine Superliga (PSL) by storm when they crushed a star-studded Foton squad to win the 2016 PSL All-Filipino Conference title.
La Salle makes a living not out its sheer star power or prized recruits.
It thrives by playing within a system, a process that has been tested by time and solidified with blood, sweat and tears by the great men and women who contributed to this very successful program.
Although it is widely known that head coach Ramil de Jesus engineered the program from scratch, credit should also be given to the players ranging from Iris Ortega-Patrona, Ivy Remulla, Maureen Penetrante and Manilla Santos down to the generation of Michelle Gumabao, Aby Marano, Mika Reyes and Ara Galang. These women walked into the gates of Enrique Razon Sports Complex as confused teens, but stepped out with a shiny golden crown on their heads.
Everywhere they go, whoever they meet, these women would always be associated with excellent, with greatness, with discipline. And their umbilical cord would always be La Salle, the most prestigious women’s volleyball program of this generation.
But behind the glitter and glamour of La Salle’s celebrated women’s volleyball program, there is a piece of information sitting idly in a dark corner of its history. It is the skeleton in its closet, an incident that greatly humiliated the school and nearly flattened and razed the program into the ground.
Nobody would ever talk about it openly in public as La Salle personalities know that this is the chink in their golden armor, a solitary incident that puts a dash of salt into an old wound.
This is the case of Jacqueline Alarca.
The incident happened at the most unfortunate and darkest period in La Salle’s varsity program.
It was 2007 and the school is just fresh from a one-year suspension slapped by the league after being found out to have fielded two players from the men’s basketball team with spurious high school records. It was the same year when nearly all players were donning a green jacket that says: We’re back!
While the Green Archers led by future pro players JV Casio, TY Tang and Rico Maierhofer kicked off UAAP Season 70 with a flying start by winning the men’s basketball tournament, the Lady Spikers, headed by three-peat veterans Chie Saet and Manilla Santos, were struggling.
They opened the season with a pair of victories over University of the Philippines and University of the East, but collapsed against Far Eastern University, Ateneo de Manila, Adamson and University of Santo Tomas. Suddenly, what was being harped in the media as the season of redemption was slowly shaping to be a season of frustration.
Then, it happened.
La Salle’s prized middle blocker – Alarca – was caught competing despite filing a leave of absence (LOA) from the university. According to UAAP rules, a varsity must be enrolled in the school that he or she is representing to be eligible to play. So technically, what Alarca did is a clear violation of the rule.
The once mighty, once proud program suffered a great collapse.
And with that, La Salle was dealt with another blackeye as all of its victories starting January of 2008 were nullified.
In this article written by Philippine Daily Inquirer collegiate beat writer Jasmine Payo on February 9, 2008, it reflects the explanation of La Salle officials when this can of worms was finally ripped wide open.
Ineligibility woes haunt La Salle anew
By Jasmine Payo / Philippine Daily Inquirer / February 9, 2008
An “honest mistake” forced the La Salle women’s volleyball team to drop its bid for redemption just a year after returning from suspension in the UAAP.
The Lady Archers forfeited all their victories in the second round when Jacqueline Alarca, La Salle’s top scorer and the league’s leading blocker and server, continued to compete in the league even after filing a league of absence (LOA) from the university.
Rolando Perez, head of the UAAP eligibility committee, said La Salle’s wins will be disregarded starting Jan. 15, the date the school approved the LOA of the 5-foot-9 spiker.
As a result, the Lady Archers foiled their shot at the Final Four as their 6-7 win-loss record dropped to 2-11.
“She decided to go on LOA thinking that she’s already eligible because the tournament has started,” Bro. Bernie Oca, La Salle’s representative to the UAAP, said after yesterday’s emergency board meeting.
“It was an oversight on our part. The rule says the player has to be a student until the end of the tournament.”
The Lady Archers missed a chance to win four straight championships last season when the UAAP imposed a one-year suspension on La Salle in all sports due to the men’s basketball eligibility scandal.
But this year, Alarca kept the Lady Archers semifinal hopes alive after winning four of their last seven games.
“It was an honest mistake,” said Oca, noting that the confusion rose from La Salle’s different academic calendar, which is a three-term system instead of the common two-semester school year.
“She passed the eligibility in the second term and enrolled in the third term. The problem was most of the women’s games during the third term were on Thursday [and it conflicted with her class
schedule] so she decided to go on leave.”
University of Santo Tomas, though, will try to put attention back on court when its men and women’s volleyball teams shoot for key victories Sunday.
Unbeaten in 13 games, the Tigers will try to complete an elimination round sweep versus the second-ranking Far Eastern Tamaraws (12-1 win-loss) at 2 p.m. Sunday at the UP Gym.
But even if the Tigers pull off the feat, they still have to go through the Final Four.
The Tigresses (11-2) are also up for a crucial game against the league-leading Adamson Lady Falcons (12-1) at 2 p.m., followed by the 4 p.m. clash between FEU (11-2) and Ateneo (7-6) at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
Victories by UST and FEU will forge a three-way tie with Adamson for the top spot at 12-1.
In football, Ateneo (6-0-2 win-draw-loss) will try to stay on top in men’s action against UP at the Erenchun Field in Ateneo, while defending champion FEU (5-1-1) will try to sustain its dominating form in the distaff side versus UST at 3 p.m. at the Ocampo Field.
UST and UP (7-1) will try to stay ahead of the baseball pack against separate foes Sunday.
La Salle bombed out of that season at seventh place with a 3-11 win-loss card.
An honest mistake
Although Celine Hernandez took home the Best Blocker award, the pain and humiliation caused by that “honest mistake” were still too much for a returning program to bear. Players were said to be often crying in training, thinking of what went wrong.
But the pain was temporary.
The following season, the Lady Spikers won all but one game to finish the double-round eliminations with a 13-1 win-loss mark. Then, they clobbered Adamson in the Final Four before crushing erstwhile champion FEU in the best-of-three finals.
Santos emerged as Most Valuable Player and Best Attacker while Alarca claimed the Best Blocker award.
Although they lost the crown to UST the following season, La Salle erected a dynasty starting Season 73 as it won three consecutive titles, turning the ugly incident in 2007 as a mere footnote in its rich volleyball history.
Alarca won the MVP plum in Season 73, which was perceived as a validation of her talent and excellence.
But more than anything else, it was her redemption, her prize for staying strong and never giving up despite the unfortunate ordeal.
Alarca and the Lady Spikers were never the same again after that humiliating incident.
It made them stronger and a lot better both as players and individuals.
True enough, things happen for a reason.
And these Lady Spikers simply refused to give up.