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Philippine Super Liga: “This is it”

Philippine Super Liga (PSL) Commissioner Dr. Ian Laurel sort of let the cat out of the bag during our recent meeting with the broadcast team at the PhilSports Arena. He gave a brief description of how the opening ceremonies will go down when the Invitationals open this Sunday, July 7, prompting my colleague Mozzy Ravena to say, “Wow, that’s so Ian!”

Needless to say, if you know “Doc Ian” even vaguely, you’ll know that it’s going to be lavish.

I don’t know of any women’s volleyball fan who is not pumped up about the start of this league—well, except the haters and detractors who will always have an opinion, no matter how shallow. Everything became “real” during the press conference/kick-off party for the PSL held recently at the posh 7th High in Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City where the lady athletes not only came in full force to support the undertaking, but most of them arrived showing off their glitzy side for the momentous occasion.

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The top brass of Philippine volleyball including interim Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF) President Carl Chan, PSL President Ramon “Tats” Suzara, PSL Chairman Philip “Popoy” Juico, Philippine Olympic Committee First Vice President Joey Romasanta and Solar Entertainment Corporation's Chairman Wilson Tieng were among the VIPs who graced the event. I was also awed by the support given by some of the most senior members of the media such as Mr. Aldrin Cardona, Mr. Ariel Paredes, Mr. Manolo “Bong” Pedralvez, Mr. Dennis Eroa and our grand dame in the industry "Tita" Beth Celis. The hosting duties were done by the ever-vibrant Chiqui Reyes.

After a few speeches from the distinguished guests, a draw was held to determine the match-ups for opening day and what order the games will be played. It was important to determine the order because the television partner, Solar Sports, is to air only the first two games of the three match schedule. The results were:

Match #1 (2:00PM): Petron vs. Cignal (to be aired on Solar Sports at 4:00PM)

Match #2 (est4:00PM): PLDT vs. Bingo Milyonaryo (to be aired at 6:00PM)

Match #3 (est6:00PM): Philippine Army vs. Cagayan Valley (shot for highlights)

As the games progress, all teams will have their share of television exposure.

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The tournament format follows the standard 6-team competition of the FIVB: the eliminations will be a single round robin affair, with the top four teams advancing to the crossover knockout semifinals where the victors will advance to the championship match. In case of ties, quotient systems will be applied. There will be no playoffs. The championship match is slated for July 28.

But before the wars on the floor ensue, the ladies had their chance to chill and mingle with the other players and the media. It felt strange, in a way, seeing the core of the Tigress sisterhood wearing different colors as Venus Bernal (Cignal), Mary Jean Balse (Army) and Angeli Tabaquero (Petron) now face each other as opponents. The same can be said about Lady Spikers Stephanie Mercado (Bingo Milyonaryo), Michelle Datuin (Cignal), Jacqueline Alarca (Army) and new signee Melissa Gohing (Petron). Adamson mainstays Pau Soriano (PLDT) will be facing former partner Sheila Pineda (Cagayan Valley) while the Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws have a generational battle looming with Maica Morada (Bingo Milyonaryo) and Wendy Semana (Cagayan Valley)—members of the 2008 UAAP titlists—going up against Wenneth Eulalio and Rosemarie Vargas (PLDT) from a a generation after them and Ers Iratay, Melody Gutierrez, Joanne Bunag and pioneer libero Sha-Sha Torres (Army) from generations before them.

I’ve had the opportunity to cover most of these ladies as a television broadcaster in the Shakey’s V-League since 2007 and I’ve also been with most of them off the court in civilian attire. But that night, most of them just transformed into glamorous women that the people outside the venue could only tell that it was a volleyball event by the paraphernalia in the hall, such as the photo wall and when some players who had to be clad in the team uniform for a presentation walked by.

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The Ateneo alums, which included former Head Coach Charo Soriano, Kara Acevedo, Karla Bello, Fille Cainglet and Gretchen Ho even had separate interviews conducted by the multitude of TV cameras outside the main club, as did Tabaquero, Mercado, Datuin, Cagayan Valley libero Jheck Dionela and PLDT’s “veteran” duo of Lou Ann Latigay and Lizlee Ann Gata-Pantone. UE skipper Leuseht Dawis along with teammate Pau Soriano (PLDT) looked like they were at a red carpet premiere, while coaches Francis Vicente and Nes Pamilar dazzled those present with their best “catwalk” strut during the well-staged introduction of the teams.

It was one of the best press conferences/kick-off parties I’ve ever been a part of.

“This is it,” Doc Ian whispered to me. “Mangyayari na rin (It’s now about to happen).”

The PSL will surely have a full house when it finally gets underway on July 7, not because of the FREE ADMISSION the PSL has promised all the fans, not because the best volleyball players in the country will converging under one roof, but because the fans of this sport collectively WILLED it to happen.

And as the ladies partied well into the night, they knew that it was the final respite before facing new demons.

For some, they will be going up for the very first against someone who they bled with in college. For some, they will begin the process of exorcising doubt; in their age, in their reflexes, in their ability to still perform at a high level. For others, it will be an aim for personal redemption, especially those who were not able to exit gracefully while still in the collegiate ranks.

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The PSL is about second chances for many of these “former” student-athletes. This is now the big show, and (I believe), this will be the biggest draw in sports this weekend—despite the rekindling of a cage rivalry simultaneously happening just a few kilometres away.

Doc Ian said it right. This is it. For some, it might truly be. (derive conclusions)

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com