Stronger, better Dindin?

Monday, 01 Aug 2016
Julius Manicad - Chief Correspondent - @JCManicad
Is Manabat still capable of mounting a return to the PSL & the top of the game?

Dindin Manabat safely delivered a bouncing baby girl last week at the Chinese General Hospital.

A 6-foot-2 gem of a middle blocker, the 22-year old Manabat was a force to be reckoned with for Petron in the Philippine Superliga (PSL) as she posses a deadly brew of height, length, athleticism and court savvy that makes her one of the brightest young stars today.

She was tabbed by the Tri-Activ Spikers as top overall pick out of National University in 2014 and went on to lead the squad to a pair of glorious finishes, the last coming off a historic 13-0 sweep of the PSL All-Filipino Conference.

Aside from that, she also donned the national colors in the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore and the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship in Vietnam last year where Petron saw action against other elite clubs like Hisamitsu Springs of Japan and Bangkok Glass of Thailand.

And with the country hosting the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship this October, speculations are ripe that Manabat could have joined her sister – 6-foot-5 Jaja Santiago — in the Magnificent 7 if pregnancy didn’t get into the way.

But God has a very beautiful plan.

Shortly after surrendering the 2015 PSL Grand Prix crown to Foton in a thrilling three-game showdown, Manabat announced that she and her husband, former college basketball star Chico, will be having a baby after tying the knot last year.

Now, the question is: Is Manabat still capable of mounting a return, of assuming her lofty throne as one of the country’s torchbearers in the international volleyball arena?

“Why not?”

A volleyball legend in Zenaida Chavez said Manabat is still very much capable of making a return.

Chavez is no ordinary athlete.

A powerful left-handed wing spiker, Chavez was one of the few players brought to Manila from Cebu during the reformation of Philippine volleyball in 1990. So in 1993, after a bronze-medal finish in the 1991 Manila SEA Games, Chavez steered the country to a golden finish with a four-set demolition of reigning champion – and bitter rival – Thailand.

Chavez, who emerged with the Most Valuable Player crown, was the star of the show with multiple sources claiming that the Thais were shaking in fear by just a mere mention of her legendary name.

But that magical performance proved to be her last.

With the country in the thick of its title-retention campaign in the 1995 SEA Games in Chang Mai, Chavez found out that she was pregnant. But instead of sulking over the spilled opportunity, Chavez even trained hard until she was five months pregnant.

As the team was about to leave for the prestigious tourney, Chavez was pulled out.

The Philippine squad was forced to march with an 11-woman roster without its brightest star, the reigning Most Valuable Player who can terrorize the opponent with her powerful smashes and solid defense.

And it boils down as one of the biggest “what-could-have-been” moments in Philippine volleyball history.

Two years later, Chavez reported in great shape in preparation for the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta.

She was training by herself three months after giving birth. After six months, she was running the oval of Philsports complex hungry, eager to redeem herself and reclaim the throne she used to occupy in the prestigious regional competition.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

She got pregnant again.

Two years later, Chavez got pregnant again prior to the Brunei SEA Games. Fortunately, women’s volleyball was scratched from the roster of events. Chavez set her sights on competing in the next biennial meet; the 2003 SEA Games in Hanoi.

It never happened.

You guessed it right — she got pregnant again.

I was the best player who never was.

I always get pregnant every SEA Games year. That’s why my coaches were always ribbing my husband (former national boxer Ronald Chavez) that he is good at making baby every two years – or every time I was about to leave for the SEA Games.

The 45-year old Chavez added that if she didn’t get pregnant, she would still be the toast of the SEA Games.

I may have lost my vertical (leap), but I didn’t lose my power.

Despite her luckless stint in the SEA Games, Chavez would still play competitively up to 2013 for Philippine Navy. Right now, she’s the head coach of Standard Insurance-Navy in the PSL and still plays with her players in training.

Nothing has changed. I know Dindin can also do it. She’s young, tall and very talented. It’s all about determination, dedication in training and wanting to get better.

Playing moms

Chavez’s best friend, Rosemarie Prochina, revealed that Philippine volleyball history is littered with players who remain active despite siring a baby.

No less than the undisputed queen of Philippine volleyball – the legendary Thelma Barina-Rojas – had a baby ion 1987 only to come back stronger, better than before to help the country in the 1989 Kuala Lumpur and 1991 Manila SEA Games until finally winning the gold in the 1993 SEA Games.

Aside from her, also making a grand return after delivering a baby were Cynthia Arceo, Joan Botor-Carpio, Maria Liza Paglinawan-Reforsado and Cherry Rose Macatangay, who was largely inspired by Barina –Rojas and Chavez’s ability to regain their peak performance.

The most recent star who successfully made it is Aiza Maizo-Pontillas – the seasoned Petron star who is considered as one of the best opposite attackers in the country today.

Same goes in other sports as Elma Muros-Posadas, Lydia de Vega-Mercado are included in the glittery roster of athletes who reached their peak right after giving birth. Even Asia’s long jump queen, Marestella Torres, qualified in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics a year after delivering a son with fellow athlete, thrower Eleazar Sunang.

So if you look at it, it appears that motherhood is not really a hindrance.

I know Dindin can still make it. She didn’t gain a lot of weight during the course of her pregnancy. All she needs is a little training to regain the confidence and the timing she lost by staying away from the game for almost a year.

She added that having Foton star Jaja Santiago is also a huge advantage for Manabat.

Since Jaja is there, I don’t think Dindin is losing the passion and the drive to play. I know she remains updated with what is happening and is very much excited to make a return. And that’s a very important thing for a volleyball player.

Dindin’s return?

Chavez added that now that Manabat had already given birth, her journey to regain her old, deadly self has formally kicked off.

She added that if Manabat will be determined and serious in making a return, she can be in the Petron lineup for the PSL Grand Prix in late October and can gain her peak form in November, just in time for the crucial stretch of the tournament.

Of course she can do it.

Just give her three months and she’s back. It’s all about determination and having the will to return.

Chavez also agreed with Prochina, saying that having Santiago as a sister fuels the competitive fire in the heart of Manabat. After all, she’s always present during Foton’s games and never fail to provide moral support to her 20-year old sister.

We often see her in the PSL; it’s a testament that the competitive spirit is still there and she’s very eager to make a return. Otherwise, she will just opt to stay home and take a rest.

Chavez said if there’s somebody who can mount a grand comeback, it’s definitely Manabat.

Because, yes, you can take a person away from volleyball; but you can never ever take volleyball away from the person.

That’s what passion is all about.