A familiar face barged into the pressroom of the Philsports Arena while reporters were busy hammering their respective stories during Game 1 of the V-League finals between Air Force and Pocari Sweat.
The world seemed to stop.
Everybody started to listen.
Flashing her sweet smile topped with charming Californian accent, Filipino-American setter Iris Tolenada formally announced her arrival, saying that she had just signed a contract that made her eligible to see action for the Lady Warriors in the V-League Reinforced Conference later this year.
It was a gem of an agreement.
The Lady Warriors, who defied the odds by becoming one of the few rookie teams to make it all the way to the finals, will get even stronger as they recruited a setter who can carry the entire team on her back. Tolenada, after all, is a tall and quick playmaker with a volleyball IQ that can match that of a seasoned mentor.
Behind the scene, Pocari Sweat team manager Eric Ty was celebrating.
He was jumping and shouting like a pudgy kid in a candy store.
[quote cite=’Eric Ty, team manager (Pocari Sweat)’]Bye-bye Cignal. Iris is ours.[/quote]
True enough, Tolenada will go down as the greatest recruit Cignal never had.
Glitters like gold
Billed as the first player from San Francisco State University to have won the Most Valuable Player award in the tough California Collegiate Athletic Association, Tolenada landed on the country after several e-mails with top Philippine Superliga officials.
She said she wanted to play in Manila since her parents have strong ties with their Filipino relatives in the provinces of Baler and Tarlac.
So to cut the long story short, PSL threw her name, together with another Filipino-American in Alexa Micek, in the 2015 PSL Rookie Draft. Philips Gold owns the top pick and for Ty and the rest of the organization, Tolenada is a setter that glitters like gold.
Tolenada emerged as the top overall pick and transformed the Lady Slammers into instant contenders as her court savvy and lightning-quick sets squeezed out the best from spikers Myla Pablo and Michelle Gumabao.
The PSL was assigned to form a team to the AVC Asian Seniors Women’s Volleyball Championship in Tianjin, China. And Tolenada — despite being the new kid on the block – was entrusted with the responsibility to run the show.
[quote cite=’Iris Tolenada’]Growing up in the States, representing the country is a very big deal for me.[/quote]
After that memorable stint, the Lady Slammers went on to bag the third-place trophy and send a strong message to that league that: “yes, we’re slowly getting there.”
Tolenada, for her part, bagged the PSL Best Setter award.
Few weeks later, she went back to the US and landed a coaching job in which she handled a pair of high school teams while helping out in running the program of Santa Clara University in California. Now, she looks fitter, stronger than ever.
[quote]After playing here, I went back to the States to coach my high school teams and I helped out in Santa Clara University. I’ve been working and working out. I’ve been spending time with my family and playing volleyball whenever I can.[/quote]
A highly-reliable source said Tolenada expressed willingness to join the tryouts for the PSL All-Star team that will see action in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship from Oct. 18 to 21 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The source said Tolenada has been sending feelers that she wants to be part of the team that will make history as it battles the likes of Rexona Ades of Brazil, VakifBank Istanbul and Eczacibasi Vitra of Turkey, Hisamitsu Springs of Japan, Bangkok Glass of Thailand and Pomi Casalmaggiore of Italy and Volero Zurich of Switzerland in a week-long volleyball festival.
A PSL official reportedly advised Tolenada that if she wants to be part of the prestigious event, she has to be an official member of the PSL family since the league is the only club league mandated by the FIVB to form a team.
Another source said the HD Spikers showed interest since they are in dire need of a spark plug to improve their sagging campaign. So far, Cignal has yet to post a single victory in four games despite rumors that its coach, Sammy Acaylar, will be handling the PSL All-Star team in the FIVB World joust.
Tolenada, however, re-affirmed her standing commitment with Pocari Sweat and the chances of her representing the country in FIVB World tourney was completely dissolved.
[quote cite=’Iris Tolenada’]I already signed with them before I got here.[/quote]
The source said Tolenada could have been a major boost to the PSL All-Star team. He branded Tolenada’s exclusion to the team as a “lost opportunity.”
[quote]She’s strong, she’s tall and she makes great decision. She plays very fast, similar to what we see in western countries. If we have Iris on our team, together with four or five tall foreign spikers, I think we stand a very good chance against the giants of the world.[/quote]
But still, whether she plays in the V-League or the PSL, Tolenada vowed to deliver her best to match –or even surpass – her previous performance.
She looks leaner, stronger than before.
Tolenada will keep on fighting no matter what league she plays in.