Life’s not yet over for Lifesavers

Thursday, 10 Nov 2016
Julius Manicad - Chief Correspondent - @JCManicad
Generika Lifesavers may have suffered a fifth straight loss against Cignal HD Spikers but coach Francis Vincente believes there is still life in the Lifesavers!

Generika was further pushed to the basement when it absorbed its fifth straight setback following a bitter five-set loss to Cignal, 25-22, 19-25, 25-21, 20-25, 4-15 in the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Center.

It was such a sorry loss.

The Lifesavers were all primed up to pluck their first victory of the conference when the HD Spikers lost its import Lynda Morales in the first set. But a lot of questionable calls went their way, prompting them to get frustrated in the fourth set before completely running out of gas in the deciding set.

Ria Meneses was at her best while imports Darlene Ramdin and Polina Liutikova played with hunger and more sense of urgency. Rising star Faith Arado was also impressive as her savvy playmaking kept veteran Rubie de Leon deep into the bench.

Unfortunately, Cignal’s army of veterans all stepped up with Michelle Laborte, Mylene Paat and Janine Marciano taking on the lead role while Laura Schaudt did a marvelous job protecting the net.

Observers believe that winning over the Morales-less Cignal is the perfect way for the young Generika squad to gain momentum and, who knows, maybe use it as a foundation to come up with a mighty run, similar to what Shopinas and Foton did when they advanced to the finals in the 2014 All-Filipino Conference and the 2015 Grand Prix, respectively.

But fate had a cruel script. The Lifesavers lost and it casts a cloud of gloom over their campaign, making it quite impossible for them to prevail over heavyweights Foton, Petron and F2 Logistics.

Still, coach Francis Vicente keeps the faith.  He knows the battle is still far from over.

Young team

Generika is such a special team. In fact, after winning the 2014 All-Filipino Conference title featuring Tina Salak, Michelle Carolino, Mary Jean Balse and the stars of Philippine Army, the franchise took a breather only to resurface again this year.

But with Army already committed to RC Cola, Generika had to build a team out of scratch in a bid to duplicate, or even surpass, its glorious past.

The team tapped Vicente to assemble the squad. A vocal leader and good motivator who mentored some of the country’s brightest young stars like Alyssa Valdez, Dindin Manabat, Kim Fajardo and Jaja Santiago in high school, Vicente was still fresh from leading Philips Gold to a set shy of making it to the Grand Prix finals last year.

Like Generika, turning Philips Gold into a golden contender also took some time.  But when the Lady Slammers were already ripe to win the crown, the management opted to join the rival league, leaving Vicente’s lofty ambition to a PSL title vanishing in thin air.

Generika gave him a chance.

Vicente tapped a legendary player to serve as his chief deputy, Rosemary Prochina, a member of the team that last won the gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games in 1993. He also hired former University of Santo Tomas star Jeff Drio while another legend in Zenaida Ybanez-Chavez joined them later on together with UST track and field coach Manny Calipes as trainer.

Then, he hired a veteran playmaker in de Leon to serve as cornerstone and surrounded her with young stars like Meneses, Chloe Cortez, Shaya Adorador, Gen Casugod, Angel Legacion and Yna Pagdanganan. Wensh Tiu was appointed as team captain due to her leadership and championship experience in La Salle.

In a previous interview, Vicente said his team might not immediately deliver results, but it would surely get there sooner than expected.

If you look at it, we’re such a young team. Save for a proven leader like Rubie, all of our players are young developing. But we’re not worried. If we did it with Philips Gold, I know we could also do it with Generika. All it takes is patience – a lot of patience – to start contending.

The Lifesavers finished the All-Filipino Conference at fifth place, a feat much better than what Cignal, Standard Insurance-Navy and Amy’s Spikers accomplished.

Keeping the faith

Unlike other teams, the Lifesavers didn’t make any drastic changes for the Grand Prix.

Although they fell short of hiring Stephanie Niemer and Schaudt as reinforcements, they were still happy to land Ramdin and Liutikova, two exciting players and true professionals. But becoming a powerhouse is not an overnight process.

The losses kept piling up and it tests the Lifesavers’ faith in each other. And at one point, Vicente nearly resigned after getting fed up with the lousy plays of his wards. But he quickly clarified that it doesn’t mean that the Lifesavers are already giving up.

If they no longer believe in me, then I will go. I will gladly hand over the reign to my assistant coaches if the players no longer respond to me. At least in that way, they can still keep their development and get to where they want to be.

Vicente reconsidered his plan after a lengthy talk to the players and the management. He stayed on and kept the faith.

We can’t be champions overnight. It’s a long process. And at this point, we’re all dedicated to winning by trusting the process. Who knows, maybe we can win one game after another and made a miraculous run to the semis. We may never know. The battle is not yet over.

Vicente said they vowed to give their all every game not matter what, no matter how difficult it is.

We’re no longer thinking about our record. We’re taking it one game at a time. We know good things happen to those who work hard and persevere. Victories would surely come next.

Vicente shook his head.  He knows it’s still a long process. There will be a lot of trials, a lot of birth pains along the way. But at least, they’ve already started it.

Life is not yet over for these young Lifesavers.