Rico de Guzman marked his return to active coaching when he replaced Rommel Jon Abella as head coach of Pocari Sweat in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL).
Abella, the architect of the Lady Warriors’ impressive surge in the country’s pioneer commercial league, has been moved upstairs and will assume the role of team consultant in what sideliners see as a massive move that will fortify the dynasty the squad is trying to erect.
The changing of the guard isn’t a major issue.
Both de Guzman and Abella went a long, long way back. In fact, they were cut from the same cloth as they used to be part of the celebrated University of Santo Tomas men’s squad a couple of decades ago.
Also with them in the coaching brotherhood that trained under Odjie Mamon are Cocolife head coach Kungfu Reyes, Petron assistant coach Ian Fernandez, former Air Force head coach Clarence Esteban and former Generika-Ayala assistant coach Jeff Drio.
Their head coach: Emiliano Lontoc.
And he is more than proud to see his boys do well in the coaching field.
Still packing a punch despite a brief hibernation from coaching, Lontoc couldn’t help but marvel at the development of his wards.
The former assistant mentor of the fabled women’s team that won the gold medal in the 1993 Southeast Asian Games said his boys have come a long way and he is proud to say that they still apply all the values he imparted.
Under Lontoc’s mentorship, the group a pair of University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) titles in 1999 and 2001 before being dethroned by De La Salle University in 2002. Then, these Growling Tigers returned to the top in 2003 to close their colorful collegiate stint on a high note.
Lontoc is now the head coach of Lyceum of the Philippines University in the NCAA, but remains active in grassroots volleyball as he serves as main man of the Volleyball Academy that will be put up by the Philippine Superliga (PSL).
Volleyverse caught up with him at the sidelines of the PSL Beach Volleyball Challenge Cup where he was watching his ward – Sisi Rondina of Petron – competing against Patty Orendain and Fiola Ceballos of Foton in the championship match.
Rondina, interestingly, is also being mentored by Reyes at UST.
Aside from Lontoc’s former libero in Abella, who won three titles with the Lady Warriors, de Guzman also became a champion coach with three crowns for Philippine Army in the Philippine Superliga.
Reyes, the brilliant UST women’s team tactician who served as Lontoc’s trusted leader in his varsity days, has only one title, but it is very significant as he steered the Lady Troopers to become the first local team to defeat a Thai team in an official match since the 1993 SEA Games.
He is now serving as part of the coaching staff of another former UST coach – Francis Vicente – in the national women’s team headed for the AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship and the 29th Southeast Asian Games.
Not to be outdone, Fernandez, the former skipper of the national men’s team, also evolved into an outstanding deputy as he was part of the great Foton squad that won the PSL Grand Prix title in 2015.
He also trained the Tornadoes in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship last year in Laguna before moving to Petron to join Shaq Delos Santos at the bench.
This writer was a Journalism major at UST and saw first-hand how Mamon would whip these Tigers to perfection in training before Lontoc takes over to impart his golden nuggets of wisdom.
The squad was so confident that it will go to University of the Philippines Human Kinetics gym during UAAP games playing not to win – but to prepare for their bitter rival, Far Eastern University, which was then led by Delos Santos and former national team campaigners Edcer Penetrante and Don Esmele.
Adrian Pabellano, who used to play the utility and middle attacker roles, revealed that their training was so intense – far more intense than actual games.
Fernandez agreed with Pabellano, saying that Lontoc puts special premium on training and pre-game preparations.
Reyes, for his part, said Lontoc taught him how to forgive – inside and outside the court.
Meanwhile, Rondina delivered the title-clinching kill, much to the delight and adulation of a great weekend crowd that packed the stands of Mall of Asia sand court.
As thunderous applause and cheers echoed around, Lontoc couldn’t help but smile.
He’s now reaping the sweet fruits of the seeds he sowed.