When we were Queens

Thursday, 28 Jul 2016
Julius Manicad - Chief Correspondent - @JCManicad
The victorious 1993 Philippines SEA Games team

The completion of the Magnificent 7 – or the seven-man local roster that will compete in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship – is a major breakthrough as far as the country’s participation in the international volleyball arena is concerned.

Not only will they get to gain massive exposure by competing against the best players in the world, but these seven young ladies will also serve as the country’s flag-bearers when the country hosts the Southeast Asian Games in 2019.

A three-year training program, topped with a foreign coach and overflowing foreign exposure, is what the country needs to regain its lofty status in the region. Yes, it may be lengthy and brutal, but there is no shortcut to success. Winning is not an overnight process.

Charting a three-year roadmap to the gold medal is already a proven ingredient.

More than two decades ago, the Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association (Pava), headed by Misamis Oriental Rep. Victorico Chaves and Ramon Suzara, charted a three-year plan in a bid to reclaim the country’s lost glory in the Southeast Asian Games.

After winning the crown in the 1985 Bangkok and 1987 Jakarta SEA Games, the Philippines suddenly lost its might as Thailand reigned supreme in the 1989 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. Indonesia settled for the silver medal while Myanmar took the bronze medal, sending Pava to the drawing board to solve this nagging problem.

The solution? Formulate a long-term plan.

With the newly formed Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) vowing its all-out support, Chavez instructed Suzara to lay down the groundwork for an ultimate mission that will bring the women’s volleyball crown back to Manila.

It was a mission impossible.

But in the end, it was all worth it.

In a story written by sportswriter Edwin Gabutina for Manila Standard in June 23, 1993, he explained how Suzara executed Chaves’ marching order to perfection and its impressive result in the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore.

RP female spikers’ win caps three-year talent search

(Manila Standard / June 23, 1993)

By Edwin Gabutina

SINGAPORE – A three-year nationwide talent search, year-long training and a one-month fine-tuning in Japan proved to be the winning ingredients for the Philippine women’s volleyball team which regained the Southeast Asian Games title it last held in 1987 by beating archrival Thailand Saturday at the Woodlands Sports Hall here.

“The time and effort we spent to rebuild the team after the 1989 and 1991 Games paid off,” said the president of Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association Rep. Victorico L. Chaves after the RP belles’ 5-16, 15-12, 15-12, 15-10 victory. “It proved that we (in the PAVA) did the right move in looking for taller, fresh faces in the provinces.”

Three of these “discoveries” who played key roles in the tourney were Zenaida Ybanez, Rosemarie Molit and Leonora Escollante.

Ybanez, a 6-foot-2 lefty who was discovered in Cebu City three years ago along with Molit, was easily the star of the 86-minute final match. She nailed spikers after spikes down the Thais’ court almost at will to run away with the “Best Spiker” and “Most Valuable Player” awards.

Escollante, the 5-foot setter from Polytechnic University of the Philippines, orchestrated the Filipinos’ fluid attack after the first set and eventually bagged the “Best Setter” award.

Chaves also pointed out that “we have a young team. Ybanez, Molit and Escollante are in their early twenties. Another player (Elvira) Garrovillas is only 18. Of the 1987 champion team members, only Thelma Barina, Arlene Lodimo, Josie Vasquez, Lisa Paglinawan and Cynthia Arceo are still around. But we are ready to tap other young players for inclusion on future national teams.”

SEA Games aftermath

Shortly after winning the SEA Games crown in 1993, the Russian coach who was responsible for turning things around, Stanislav Lyugaylo, opted not to re-sign, leaving bulk of the coaching chores to his chief deputies, Emil Lontoc and Sammy Acaylar.

The following year, the core of the team went on a two-month training in Japan in preparation for the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games. But the squad never made it as it was not allowed to compete by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC).

Neophytes Tina Salak, Cherry Macatangay and Roxanne Pimentel joined the team in the 1995 SEA Games in Chang Mai, Thailand. However, a last-minute withdrawal from their best player, Ybanez, doomed their chances of defending their crown.

The Philippines’ would completely crumble in 1997 after internal squabble hounded the national federation. Chaves, who stepped down in 1994, was completely overthrown by the group of new Pava chief, Benigno Gopez, who appointed a pair of new coaches in Emma Reynoso of Far Eastern Univeristy and Augusto Sta. Maria of University of Santo Tomas.

The Philippines slid all the way to fourth place in the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta and settled for bronze medal in the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur; 2003 SEA Games in Vietnam; and 2005 SEA Games in Manila.

That flickering hopes completely disappeared after the Manila edition as the Philippines missed the next four stagings of the biennial meet. Although the Filipinos resurfaced in the Singapore SEA Games last year, they were never the same team again as they ended without a medal and kissed the tournament goodbye with just one win.

So yes, what took place in the past perfectly reflects what is happening in the present.

Leonora Escollante is now Kim Fajardo, Zenaida Chaves is Jovelyn Gonzaga, Rosemarie Molit is Rachel Anne Daquis and Thelma Barina is Jaja Santiago. The faces, shapes and sizes may be different, but their mission remains the same: Put the Philippines back to its once lofty status in the region.

Time is running out and the Manila SEA Games in 2019 is just around the corner.

It’s now or never.

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