As the country’s national treasure in volleyball, Alyssa Valdez, enters a new chapter of her playing career, the greatest misconception is the idea that she is set to become the first local player to play in a foreign country.
No, she’s not.
Little did we know that 20 years ago, two brave Filipinos packed their bags to banner the country in a club league abroad. Their exploits may be left dusting in in the darkest corner of Philippine volleyball history, but the mark they made should never be forgotten.
The original trailblazer is Oliver Balse, the older brother of former University of Santo Tomas star Mary Jean Balse.
The other one is a person super close to Valdez’s heart.
In fact, they spent the past five years working together in trying to establish a championship dynasty for Ateneo de Manila University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
Former Ateneo trainer Parley Tupaz may not talk about his golden experience that much, but – yes – he is one of the only two Filipinos who played as imports in a commercial league abroad.
And now that Valdez is set to embark on a grueling campaign in the Thailand Volleyball League starting January 15, all those memories came flashing back like a surging tsunami.
He couldn’t help but smile. He’s proud of his ward. He knows she can survive with flying colors.
If we want to know how and why Tupaz ended in a commercial league in Malaysia, the greatest starting point is the 1997 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta.
A small but hardworking middle blocker, Tupaz caught the eye of the Malaysians with his deadly brew of speed, skills and power. Although the Philippines failed to advance to the finals of the biennial meet, the bravery shown by Tupaz was enough to convince Malaysian volleyball officials to tap him as import in the Malaysia Volleyball League.
Former Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association secretary-general Ramon Suzara said he wasn’t surprised to learn that the Malaysians wanted to recruit Tupaz.
Suzara, now the president of Philippine Superliga, said four years ago, a Filipina star in Zenaida Ybanez was seriously being courted by NEC Red Rockets in the prestigious V Premier League in Japan after the Nationals punched the gold medal in the Singapore SEA Games in 1993.
But it didn’t push through as Ybanez got pregnant with her first child with Ronald Chavez, a distinguished member of the Philippine boxing team.
“It started with Nene (Ybanez) until Oliver and Parley. I heard George (Pascua) was also being considered to play abroad. The mid-90s was truly the golden age of Philippine volleyball. The level of respect of our neighbors in our players was very high.”
Tupaz suited up with Penang team in the Malaysia Volleyball League.
Together with other recruits from China, India, Indonesia and Thailand, he powered the squad to a title finish in 1997.
After his Malaysian stint, Tupaz returned to the country to be with Philippine Air Force and the National Team. He campaigned in various tournaments like the Philippine National Games, National Open, Southeast Asian Games and Asian Tour.
He also shifted to beach volleyball in the tail end of his career, joining fellow Air Force star Rhovyl Verayo in carrying the torch for the Filipinos when the country hosted the SEA Games in 2005 and in the biennial meet in Nakhon Ratchasima in 2007.
Adjustment is key
Twenty years since his Malaysian stint, another Filipina is set to banner the country in a commercial league abroad.
Tupaz’s prized ward at Ateneo, Valdez was tapped by 3BB Nokhonnont to suit up as import in the second round of the Thailand Volleyball League starting January 29.
Although she will fly there on January 15 to undergo a series of tune-up matches and to familiarize herself with the system, it was already a done deal as the team manager of the Thai side already reached out to Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. to formally request for her release.
Tupaz said Valdez has what it takes to become a successful import.
But she has to remember a very important thing.
Tupaz, who arrived at Ateneo on the same year Valdez played her first official college game and left few months after Valdez kissed the UAAP goodbye, said he doesn’t see any problem with adjustment as the two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player enjoys a very good relationship with her former Thai teammates Kanjana Kuthaisong and Natthanicha Jaisen.
Even her coach with the Lady Eagles for three years – Anusorn Bundit – is a Thai.
Yes, Valdez can easily nail it.
She has the character, the charisma, and the persona to dominate even outside her comfort zone. And nobody knows it better than Tupaz.
He surely knows it because 20 years ago, he also trekked the path Valdez is about to take.