Leader of the pack

The sweltering gym was simply crowded with talent. Two-time FIVB Women’s Club World Championship veteran Yevgeniya Nyukhalova of Ukraine was standing in the middle together with 6-foot-4 former Dinamo Krasnodar blocker Ekaterina Krivets of Russia as well as Stephanie Niemer, the high-flying recruit from the United States.

Just within spitting distance away were rising star Tichaya Boonlert of Thailand and do-it-all libero Yuri Fukuda of Japan.

Although Olympian Lynda Morales of Puerto Rico wasn’t around, she sent a text message that she will join the training as soon as she brushes off the jetlag caused by 17-hour flight from the California to Manila.

Not far away was Rachel Anne Daquis, RC Cola-Army’s gem of a gunner whose inclusion into this magical team that will action in this year’s edition of the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship sparked a major uproar from critics and bashers who refused to believe that she can stand her ground in the world’s biggest volleyball stage.

She removed her shoes and started to cool down.

She was trying to be playful with Fukuda. Then, she teased her former Petron teammate, Jen Reyes, about being baptized with such a cute nickname “Maria” by her fellow libero from Mizayaki, Japan.

Daquis was smiling, trying her best to lighten up the tense atmosphere in their first major training together with all these world-class imports.

After all, she’s the oldest in this team, the most veteran, but definitely not the most experienced internationally.

Finally, Philippine Superliga (PSL) president Ramon Suzara called them to a huddle.

He had a major announcement to make.

Everybody stood up, forming a line in front of Suzara, PSL chairman Philip Ella Juico and Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. vice president Pete Cayco.

Butterflies were obviously flying on Daquis’ stomach. Just few months ago, Daquis’ volleyball career was in limbo after crashing with a broken foot in a crucial match in the recent All-Filipino Conference, prompting her to beg off from competing in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship and raising speculation that she would also miss this historic volleyball spectacle.

But now, here she is: standing next to the volleyball giants of the world.

It was surreal.

It was unbelievable.

But what Suzara announced completely turned this magical feeling into a fantasy. It was like a fairy-tale in which a lowly maid managed to marry a young and handsome prince.

Daquis rubbed her eyes.

Yes, everything is happening. Everything is true.

And she’s going to be the team captain – the leader — of this magical team.

Don’t miss the FIVB VNL 2019!

Watch all 260 games of the best men & womens international volleyball online - LIVE & on-demand!

Don’t miss the FIVB VNL 2019!

Watch all 260 games of the best men & womens international volleyball online - LIVE & on-demand!

Rejected past

Daquis’ journey to the world wasn’t a walk in the park.

In fact, nobody tried to recruit her out of high school and her first choice for college, University of Santo Tomas, virtually shut its door on her as the entire team travelled to Cebu right on the very day she was about to walk in with her mother to try their luck following a grueling two-hour travel from Taytay, Rizal.

Fortunately, nearby Far Eastern University gave her a chance with its coach, George Pascua, admitting in a previous interview that it wasn’t Daquis’ skills or athleticism that prompted them to accept her: It was her height and looks.

[quote]She’s tall and pretty. I thought that we can use her in some of the school’s marketing campaign.

But when training started, I realized that she’s not fit for the varsity. She had very limited skills and was still raw. I told her that if she wants to make it big, she has to exert a lot of effort and dedication.[/quote]

Daquis’ dedication was tested when Pascua sent her home in the middle of weights training after she refused to work on her legs, fearing that it might bulk up and affects her modeling career.

She cried and cried.

[quote]I sent her home. I don’t want any drama on the team.[/quote]

But the next day, Daquis surfaced.

She was the first to arrive in training.

[quote]That’s how dedicated she is.

She may be screamed at during training, but she will still come running back to the team. She’s very dedicated. She may be raw and skills limited, but you can sense that burning desire, that passion and love for volleyball.[/quote]

A decade later, Daquis would lead Pascua’s team, Petron, to a historic 13-0 sweep to win the crown of the 2015 PSL All-Filipino Conference.

She won the Most Valuable Player award and gained the respect of thousands of volleyball fans.

There were no more tears.

Daquis was finally vindicated.

Proving them wrong

Proving doubters wrong is truly an agonizing process.

Few months back, when Suzara announced that Daquis became the first member of the team that would compete in the world championship, social media was burning with questions, criticisms and doubts about Daquis’ ability to compete against the best players from Japan, Thailand, Italy, Brazil, Switzerland and Turkey.

She cried a river over questions to the point that she, too, was also starting to doubt herself.

[quote]It’s inevitable not to have bashers and critics.

So I told myself that I will prove them wrong. I’ll do it even if my haters say that I can’t. These haters fire me up; they give me that extra push; they give me the motivation to be the best.[/quote]

Now that she’s finally appointed as the team captain, Daquis expects those questions to surface again.

But this time, she’s now stronger.

She’s now more prepared to counter those criticisms.

After all, she will not compete for herself, but for the entire country.

[quote]I was chosen not because I’m the best player on the team, but because they respect and believe in me.

They look at me as a big sister. So I have to fulfill that role. I have to set an example that even the imports would emulate.[/quote]

Suzara explained that since the team was just newly-assembled, it is wise to put on Daquis as the skipper due to her experience and ability to mentor her young teammates, especially 19-year old Boonlert and 21-year old Nyukhalova.

[quote]This is a newly-formed team and chemistry should be developed as soon as possible.

That’s why we opted to appoint Rachel as our team captain because of her leadership and ability to reach out both to local and foreign players.

Her role is not just to score, but also to provide leadership and spearhead the development of chemistry among team members inside and outside the court.[/quote]

Daquis smiled.

She knew Suzara saw something special in her.

She knew that her teammates trust her.

They believe in her despite all the questions, despite all the criticisms hurled her way.

So today – with still one month before the big show – she will formally embrace her new role as the leader of the pack.

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