Guest team Victoria Sports-University of Santo Tomas pushed Cocolife to the limit before surrendering a four-set decision in their Chooks To Go-Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix encounter Tuesday at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Despite the loss, there was one player from the Asset Managers who was beaming with pride seeing the Tigresses fighting their hearts out – Mary Jean Balse-Pabayo.
Balse-Pabayo used to be the leader of the glorious UST squad of the past decade.
Together with Venus Bernal, Angeli Tabaquero, Denise Tan and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Balse-Pabayo steered the Tigresses to a University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) crown in 2007 and a handful of unforgettable finishes in the Shakey’s V-League.
She joined the Philippine Army after following celebrated collegiate career and won the PSL’s first three titles to cement her spot in the honor roll.
And now that she’s making a return, she couldn’t help but be proud of these young — but feisty — Tigresses.
“I’m so proud of them because they fought on both ends without being intimidated.”
“They played well on (floor) defense and blocking and even won one set over our team, which has two imports. I can see that their fighting heart is there and that’s what I want to see being a UST alumnus.”
True enough, the Tigresses were on a different level in their PSL debut.
Carla Sandoval and Dimdim Pacres played like seasoned spikers, delivering 14 points apiece while Rica Jane Rivera and Japanese import Yukie Inamasu gamely challenged the hot smashes of imports Tai Manu-Olevao and Taylor Milton with their airtight floor defense.
UST is missing the services of top spikers Cherry Rondina and EJ Laure, but it doesn’t matter as the experience they are gaining in the country’s most prestigious club league will be enough to bring them deep into the UAAP wars.
“They have a very good chance of winning in the UAAP.”
“They have the height, the power and the (fighting) attitude inside the court. I see a bright future for them. They just have to work hard in training and I’m sure that they will regain the UAAP title.”
Like Balse-Pabayo, Cocolife coach Kungfu Reyes was also stunned to see the UST girls standing toe to toe against a squad overflowing with veterans.
Reyes, the head coach of the Tigresses in the UAAP who still runs their daily training, said he believes that they still have a lot to show in their next few games.
“Maybe they got overwhelmed because they are now playing in the PSL.”
“It wasn’t their regular game. They played tentatively and very quiet. I think they still have a lot more to show in the next few games. Once they settled in, their real game will eventually come out.”
Reyes said fielding the Tigresses in a very tough tourney like the PSL Grand Prix is the best thing that ever happened to their preparation.
The squad paraded two imports in Liis Kullerkann of Estonia and Christina Alessi of United States, but it still bombed out, finishing second to the last in a tourney dominated by the powerhouse Foton side.
That’s the prototype of UST.
Reyes said even if the Tigresses were battered and badly beaten, they would still emerge as biggest winners as all those losses will make them tough and the lessons they will gain will be valuable when they march into the UAAP battle.
“On the other hand, this UST team is already a winner.”
“They will gain a lot of lessons here in the PSL. And that’s our target: We want to be beaten badly and hope to carry all the lessons in the UAAP.”
“But if this team will play its heart out every game, I won’t be surprised if it pulls off a miraculous win here in the PSL. Anything is possible as long as you work hard and hope for the best.”