Ateneo vs. Army: An ‘A’ for girls volleyball

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Full house. That was the scene inside the hot USC Main Gym last Sunday. Six girls versus six girls faced each other inside a rectangle. A tall see-through net stood in the middle. Screams from the thousands rocked the coliseum. Most of the spectators wore blue; some, green.

The contest: Ateneo versus Army. It was an army-like battle. The playing field: a volleyball court. The arena felt concert-like; Cebu had not seen a star-studded game like this. Maybe, ever.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles against the Philippine Army Lady Troopers. Could there be two more “A” teams — alluring and appealing? The one-afternoon-only encounter was named “Champions Tour.” And, true to its name, it was a tour of two champs: the Ateneo collegiate team are the reigning UAAP winners. Remember them winning that crown, having to make comeback after comeback against the likes of NU and La Salle? That was one for the Ateneo books. A season that will forever be etched in the storied history of ADMU.

Ateneo’s opponents? The current Shakey’s V-League Open champions, the Lady Troopers. Despite the little publicity the event generated in our local newspapers (I only read about it the day of the event; and my daughter Jana and I were barely able to enter because they had no free passes for sportswriters), the USC Gym was filled to the topmost bleachers.

Volleyball is now a craze. More so because these were athletes who were long-legged and towering; many of them were sexy and pretty.

Take the crowd favorite Rachel Anne Daquis. Codenamed “RAD” by the placards that several raised from the bleachers, Rachel has a supermodel’s smile. Fair-skinned and mestiza, she has light brown-colored hair — with a matching beautiful volleyball spike that she uses to smother that ball. RAY–CHEL! DA–KISS!

As this was an exhibition match, Rachel gamely approached the fanatic audience, took their cellphones by her hand and, with back facing her newfound friends, posed for that selfie.

On court, no crowd cheering sounded louder than when one girl — the best of them all — sprinted towards the net, jumped at her peak, and spiked that ball with an angry strike.

Alyssa Valdez. No player in women’s volleyball is more celebrated today than the forever-smiling 5-foot-9 superstar of Ateneo. She’s the MVP girl version of Kiefer Ravena. On campus or in the volleyball circles, all eyes are circled on her. And no attack is nailed with more ferocity than the spike of Alyssa. BANG!

She steps back, watches the setter toss a high ball towards her wing… she shuffles her feet for a quick sprint, bends slightly then jumps so high as if she were to slam dunk… then she snaps her wrist and slams that ball from the ceiling to the parquet floor. BANG!

It’s a beauty. The power. The speed. The “bounce.” The bullet shot from above, triggered by the palm of Alyssa’s right hand.

The beautiful thing about ladies’ volleyball? The smiles. The high-fives. The hugs. After each winning point, especially after a “kill,” the six players huddle for a quick session of clapping and smiling. They celebrate. It’s positive bonding and it’s a refreshing sight to see.

The actual game wasn’t close. The Army Lady Troopers dominated. In the first set, Ateneo wasn’t far behind. Still, they lost. The second set was lopsided. In the third set (of this 3-out-of-5 game), the Army girls did not field their strongest squad — and so they lost. In the fourth set, while the Army led by a wide margin, Ateneo clawed their way back and were two points away from tying the game. But they stumbled. Final score, in favor of the Lady Troopers: 25-21, 25-15, 19-25, 25-22.

As 5 p.m. neared (the game started 2:30) and the girls shook hands in the end, they performed one final act: the girls danced. Yes, one by one, as they formed a giant circle, player after player stood in the middle to bend and strut and twist and shuffle. This was beyond spiking, killing, blocking, digging. This was volleyball, entertainment-style.

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