Frances Molina got the memo – it came from Petron coach George Pascua, asking the entire Tri-Activ Spikers to be at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan City to scout the game between F2 Logistics and RC Cola-Army on a dark and gloomy Sunday evening.
The order was clear: Wear your blue Petron shirt. Bring paper and pen. Watch intently.
Molina scratched her head. This is the first time for Pascua to bark such an odd order. Something is surely going on here. It’s very weird.
But still, she complied.
Few hours later, PSL president Ramon Suzara stepped on the court to make a very important announcement. He’s about to award the fifth golden ticket – a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to compete in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship which will be held in Manila this October.
The Petron gallery in the bleachers was on its feet. Some were excited, some were nervous. But no mater how much they deny it, these Tri-Activ Spikers know that their leader, the veteran Aiza Maizo-Pontillas is a perfect choice for that prestigious honor.
After all, Maizo-Pontillas is a decorated warrior who led University of Santo Tomas to numerous glorious finishes in the UAAP before taking the club tournament by storm. She also served the national team long enough than any among the current crop of Tri-Activ Spikers.
Libero, Jen Reyes, already clinched one of the seven spots and if the PSL organization will tap anybody from Petron, Maizo-Pontillas will be a pretty safe bet.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
Suzara’s voice thundered with two words: Frances. Molina.
As the bench of the Cargo Movers makes way for her entry, as reporters and photographers jockey for position to get a good glimpse of the country’s future volleyball sensation, as Suzara helps her wear the golden jacket of excellence, a small drop of tear was about to roll out of Molina’s eye.
It was a tear of triumph.
It was a tear of celebration.
This achievement is not for her.
This achievement is for a beloved person hundred miles away, a person who quietly cries over her failures, celebrates her victories and supports her come hell or high water.
This achievement is for her mother.
This is the realization of her broken legacy.
It was summer of 1989 when Molina’s mother – Araceli Harding – was invited to tryout for the Philippine women’s volleyball team.
Harding, who was then known by her maiden surname Dionisio, was arguably the best, the strongest open hitter from Central Luzon. She was competing for Central Luzon State University in the National Schools Colleges and Universities Athletic Association (SCUAA) and was being offered to play commercially for Magnolia Ice Cream.
But the invitation to don the country’s tricolors was too tough to ignore.
It was her life-long dream – to play for flag and country.
Harding packed her bags for Manila in a bid to join the national team that won the gold medal in the five of the past six editions of the Southeast Asian Games. That year, the SEA Games will be held in Kuala Lumpur and a tall winger like the 5-foot-11 Harding will be greatly needed if the team wants to overcome the tough challenge from Thailand, Indonesia and, of course, the home country.
The SEA Games was set in August of that year and time was on Harding’s side to impress the coaches. After all, a gold-medal performance in the biennial meet will give the Nationals enough momentum to pull a repeat when Manila hosts the Games in 1991.
But it never happened.
[quote]I got married.”
I didn’t last long in the National Team because I married my former husband. Everything had changed after that. Few years later, I worked abroad (in Macau) then I conceived my eldest son, Neil, and started building or own family.[/quote]
Although Harding tried to play in some commercial or inter-hotel meets with the Filipino community in Macau, things were never the same again as she had her second child, Frances, and youngest, Edcel, later on. Few years later, she got separated from her husband, Pedro.
Things suddenly took a different turn.
Her dream of making it to the national team had completely vanished.
The daughter rises
But fate has a funny way to make its presence felt.
With Harding busy working abroad, Molina discovered her love for volleyball while she was in high school at the Araullo University in Cabanatuan City. There, Molina patiently learned the sport and used her height and power against kids older than her.
The following year, she transferred to College of the Immaculate Conception, which she led to the girls’ volleyball title to gain the rights to represent Cabanatuan in the Central Luzon Athletic Association (CLRAA).
Their coach was Nemesio Gavino, who also acts as assistant coach in San Beda College in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
So after CLRAA, Gavino referred Molina to Lioness coach Ryan Jorge Sucaldito, who immediately offered her an athletic scholarship. Molina took a degree in Business Management and conspired with an equally powerful hitter in Janine Marciano to turn San Beda into a serious threat in the NCAA.
Molina won the NCAA Best Blocker award in her first year and third year. The following year, she led the Lioness to a 6-0 start until a fracture on her left shin was detected.
[quote]We were 6-0 when I got injured.
After we suffered a five-set loss San Sebastian, I told coach (Sucaldito) to let me play. But he refused. He doesn’t want to risk my career. That’s why I was so disappointed because it could have been our chance to win an NCAA title.[/quote]
Molina went on to earn her degree and sit out her last playing year in the NCAA.
She’s now ready to move on to another phase of her career.
Big girls’ club
Molina would play in the V-League for two years before Petron came calling.
The Tri-Activ Spikers’ assistant coach Shaq Delos Santos and Pascua wanted her to be part of the team in the 2014 PSL Grand Prix. The squad is beaming with talents; Alaina Bergsma of United States and Erica Adachi of Brazil will suit up as imports while Dindin Manabat was billed as the league’s most talented player.
This is an entirely different challenge.
[quote]Petron is known for its excellence and I wanted to be part of that organization.[/quote]
Molina would shine in Petron and was given her first chance to represent the country in the AVC Asian Seniors Women’s Championship in Tianjin, China together with other PSL stars like Michelle Gumabao, Melissa Gohing, Kim Dy and Iris Tolenada.
Molina was also part of the Petron squad that competed in the AVC Asian Club Women’s Championship in Phu Ly, Vietnam. Then, she was selected as one of the 14 members of the PSL All-Star team that campaigned in the Thai-Denmark Super League in Bangkok last April.
[quote]Whenever I have an international tournament, my mom would always be there, even if she’s now living in New Delhi with my stepdad.
She was with me in Vietnam and Bangkok and promised to fly in the country for the World Club Championship in October. She’s very supportive.[/quote]
Continuing the legacy
Prior to learning that she won the golden ticket, Molina and her mom had a heart-to-heart talk.
[quote]She asked me how many slots were left.
“I told her only two and we have a strong feeling that Ate Aiza (Maizo-Pontillas) will get it if ever they will select somebody from Petron. She told me that whatever happens, she will always be here for me. All I need is to pray and leave everything to God.[/quote]
She added that when Pascua asked them to be at the arena on that fateful Sunday evening to “scout” their next opponent in F2 Logistics, she had no hint that this could be a life-changing moment for her.
Harding confirmed Molina’s claim.
[quote]We were not expecting.
Honestly, I didn’t expect that Frances would make it this far. But I told her that whatever the decision may be, I will still support her and she can always bank on me.[/quote]
Then, she remembered something from 27 years ago.
[quote]I was also expecting to make it to the National Team in 1989. But it wasn’t meant for me. So I told Frances that to keep on praying because God is always there to listen.[/quote]
True enough, Molina clinched the golden ticket – she’s going to a tournament far bigger, far more prestigious than the 1989 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Here, she will not only face the best players in the region; she will face the best players in the world. When the smoke of the battle had cleared, she will serve as one of the torchbearers of the national team program and its bid to reclaim supremacy in international volleyball.
She’s happy that her daughter will continue her legacy.
And on a dark and gloomy Sunday evening, her dream finally turned to reality.