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For the greater good: The Cha Cruz story

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“Volleyball is a ministry for me, ministry-like siya ‘yung may God-given talent and all that. It’s not about the fame, so I think it’s a ministry for me since ngayon nagboboom na ang volleyball. Alam mo iyon? A lot of people know about it already and mas maraming bata ang naiinspire so mas naeenjoy ko maglaro.”

Truly, current PSL brand ambassador Charleen Abigail “Cha” Cruz never ceases to amaze anyone.

Back in the day when volleyball was still considered a toss-up, Cruz, fondly called Miss Everything by her fans, was one of the many players who laid the foundation for the country’s new mainstream sporting event. During volleyball’s early stages in the country, the athletes just played on basketball courts since the taraflex courts we have now weren’t used yet.

Many great players come and go, but each and every one of them has their own unique journey to inspire everyone and undertake a special path themselves.

Now without further ado, let us take a look at the inspiring story of Miss Everything.

A mother’s wish

Contrary to an athlete’s first dance with their respective sports, Cha never had any interest in playing volleyball before. Instead, she set her sights on becoming a dentist.

“Actually ako noong una, ayaw ko, ‘yung mom ko ang may gusto [kasi] ayaw ko maglaro ng volleyball,” Cruz shared in an exclusive interview with Tiebreaker Times. “I wanted to take up dentistry in UE, pero ‘yung mom ko nag-volleyball siya noong high school, kaso hindi siya nabigyan ng chance.”

“My mom is a dentist so parang siya ‘yung nagpilit sa akin na hindi naman laging may opportunity na ganito, so kunin mo na ito and grab the opportunity.”

A rocky start

Cha Cruz S74

Cruz would then be recruited by De La Salle University’s Ramil De Jesus to play for the Lady Spikers. However, Cruz didn’t have a smooth outing as she encountered a lot of trials during her first three years in college.

During her first playing year in UAAP Season 68 back in 2005, who was a sparingly-used rookie then until midway through the tournament, Cha inevitably sustained a stress fracture in her left ankle which forced her to sit out the remaining games of the season.

Expecting a better outing in her second playing year, Cruz’s volleyball journey was once again in limbo when La Salle got suspended from the UAAP, because of fielding ineligible players on their basketball team. For the duration of that year, all La Salle teams were forced to sit it out and settled on playing for other minor leagues.

The moment when the infamous suspension ended, was when Cruz finally had the chance to make her mark on the team during UAAP Season 70. However, Cruz’s excitement came to a screeching halt as she didn’t meet the academic requirements to play, which made her ineligible to suit up that season. Despite threading through undisputed borders during those times, Cha remained persistent since she didn’t want everything she had worked for go down the drain.

“Back then, hindi ko mahal ang volleyball as much as I love it right now. Kasi before I was motivated to study, kasi kailangan ko magvolleyball dahil kailangan ko ng scholarship [and vice versa],” Cruz added. “Motivated ako kaya ako nag-aaral, otherwise walang mangyayari sa akin at hindi ko matutulungan family ko, so doon ako naging persistent. Doon sa initial three years [of my college life].”

The ultimate exclamation point

La Salle won back-to-back championships in Cha's last two years

Photo by Ryan Ong of Go Archers

Of course, bad things didn’t last forever and Cruz finally got the opportunity to return for the Lady Spikers after a two-year hiatus in UAAP Season 71.

In La Salle’s championship season in Season 71, Cruz was now one of the vital cogs of the team as they breezed past the FEU Lady Tamaraws in three games en route to the title. Also in that campaign, La Salle flexed its muscles with only two losses in the duration of the season.

Setting their sights on a second straight title, Cruz and the Lady Spikers would then encounter another setback, and also fell short, as they got dethroned by a dominant UST team. Despite her team falling down the drain, Cruz still considered it a blessing since she was able to play volleyball again after waiting patiently.

Down to the last two years of her UAAP career, Cruz suddenly delivered one of the most all-around performances in Season 73 and 74.

In her fourth playing year, she was now given a bigger responsibility as she was selected to be the team captain for the Lady Spikers. It was daunting for her at first, but Cha did really well in her Season 73 campaign as she led La Salle once again to the promised land after dethroning the same UST team that extinguished them the year prior.

Likewise, Cha’s performance during that series eventually earned her the Finals’ Most Valuable Player plum.

If her Season 73 campaign was spectacular, Cruz would once again put on a show in her last hurrah for La Salle in Season 74. Remembered as one of the most impressive seasons for DLSU in UAAP volleyball history, the team accomplished a 14-0 sweep of the elimination round which earned them an outright berth to the Finals and a thrice-to-beat advantage.

However, things didn’t go exactly as planned as Cruz and the Lady Spikers eventually fell to the Ateneo Lady Eagles, one of the toughest teams during that time, in the opening match of the championship round.

Order was then restored as Cruz powered her team to a couple of victories in the next two games to cap off her UAAP career with one last championship. Cruz was also named the Finals’ Most Valuable Player for the second straight year.

Impressive isn’t it? For an athlete who started her career with struggles, who would have thought that she would defy the odds and bag multiple championships along the way? Eventually, Cha’s perseverance paid off and it was a classic case of all good things come to those who wait.

“Hindi ko siya ni-regret, dahil alam ko na hindi ako makakarating hanggang Season 74 kung hindi nangyari sa akin iyon,” Cruz shared when asked about on how he faced her early trials. “I think it’s a blessing in disguise na nangyari ‘yung bumps na iyon para prolonged ang stay ko with La Salle.”

Morever, Cruz also indicated that her Season 74 championship was the sweetest of all titles not because of the awards and other glorious moments, but rather a rare moment of having the chance to play alongside her twin sisters in Camille and Cienne Cruz.

“I think the most memorable for me is the last one [championship] in Season 74 kasi not only na maganda ang exit, maganda ang championship at ‘yung mga bonus na awards, pero I think sobrang treasured ko siya kasi I had the chance to play with my sisters. Kahit isa lang ang nasa lineup, I had the chance to have them one year in La Salle. So alam mo iyon? Hindi naman lahat nabibigyan ng chance na ganoon.”

Beyond volleyball

Cruz then bid farewell to volleyball for two years after exhausting all of her UAAP playing years. She pursued further studies and had a job as a teacher. And during those two years, volleyball then catapulted to mainstream status. So, everyone wondered and waited to see if Cha can make a comeback once more.

Cha during her time in Generika

Cha during her time in Generika

Luckily, Cha would return to action, which delighted the volleyball community as she suited up for the defunct Air Asia Flying Spikers back in the 2014 PSL All-Filipino Conference and the Generika Lifesavers during the 2014 PSL Grand Prix. Now, she is currently playing for the Shopinas.com Lady Clickers in the ongoing 2015 PSL All-Filipino conference. She also made her return to the Shakey’s V-League this year as she also suited up for the Meralco Power Spikers.

“After graduation, nagstop ako ng two years kasi nagfocus ako sa pag-aaral and I took all my academics for my masters kasi nag-full load ako and I wanted to experience ‘yung work in real life,” Cruz shared. “But then, after noong two years narealize ko na nakakamiss [volleyball] since somehow, part na rin siya ng buhay ko, and while I’m still young and I’m still able, balik na lang ulit ako[playing volleyball] and kaya I’m still here.”

Although this time around, Cha pointed out that returning to the volleyball scene after two years eventually opened up a lot of new challenges for her since she had to work herself back to playing shape and she also admitted that things were lighter for her during her peak years.

“It was struggle for me kasi two years ako nagstop [playing volleyball] and then doon sa two years akong nagstop, nagkaroon ako ng injuries with my shoulder kaya hirap akong makabalik kumpara doon sa peak career ko noong UAAP,” Cruz remarked. “Actually, I’m still struggling now kung paano makakabalik and masustain iyong condition. But yeah, alam kong meron pa rin akong mapupuntahan.”

Cha Cruz announced as the 2015 PSL Ambassador

Cha Cruz announced as the 2015 PSL Ambassador

Ultimately, Cruz’s efforts would once again bear fruit as she was named as the new brand ambassador for the PSL. A very big blessing for her, Cruz now set her sights on promoting the ideals of the league and at the same time being a model athlete for everyone.

Lastly, as time goes on along with volleyball’s golden age, Cruz also wants to maximize her playing years in volleyball, before calling it quits, in order to be an inspiration for everyone that encounters trials presented by life. Things may not go as planned or the way we wanted, but Cha definitely knows a thing or two about defying the odds in our relentless pursuit of chasing our goals.

“Ako I just don’t do things for myself, I do it for the Glory of the Lord. Everything has a purpose and hindi lang para sa sarili mo. Be a blessing for other people,” Cruz delightfully ended.

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Football

Composed Ceres-Negros expels Shan United in shootout victory

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Photo from the-AFC.com

2017 AFC ASEAN Zone Champions Ceres-Negros banked on their poise and composure from the spot as they knocked out Myanmar’s Shan United via a 4-3 penalty shootout (1-1 after extra time) triumph, Tuesday evening at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Negrenses punched their ticket to Brisbane, Australia after emerging the better spotkick takers. Four Busmen were on target, while two of their Shan Warriors counterparts fluffed their lines.

The two domestic champions were inseparable after 120 minutes, with the hosts holding their own against the Philippine champions. Ceres-Negros looked the more dominant of the two teams. However, they couldn’t make the advantage count where it mattered, as they failed to breach the sturdy Shan United defense inside the first two regulation halves.

The visitors were visibly more comfortable in the first half, but with the scores staying level at the break, the less-fancied Myanmar champions eventually found their footing in the encounter. While there were several half-chances from either side to open the scoring, both defenses remained defiant en route to unwanted extra time.

“It was a tough game. We weren’t ready to play 120 minutes because we only had four training sessions before the game but everytime we wear this jersey, we represent Ceres, we represent Bacolod, we represent the Philippines, so we have to give our best,” Ceres’ defender Carli de Murga elaborated to the Inquirer after the match. The Asian Football season has yet to start, and with both teams not too busy with pre-season preparations, rust and fatigue in a demanding affair were evident.

Come extra time, Ceres-Negros took the initiative when Stephan Schröck’s deflected effort went past the helpless Thiha Si Thu just three minutes into the first half.

Nonetheless, the hosts refused to go down without a fight, and their resilience was rewarded later in the opening half. Substitute Patrick Asare found the back of the net to restore parity in Yangon.

Another 15 minutes of goalless action took place in the second half as both teams looked more cautious, perhaps with the collective aim of avoiding a costly error or two. Among all the chances, Schröck’s in the 114th minute may have proved to be the closest to changing the scores, as his attempt shaved the post.

Shan United took to the spot first, where Asare made his penalty attempt count. Nay Lin Tun also made his, but not before teammate Chizoba smashed his attempt over Toni Doblas’ goal.

While the hosts squandered a shot, the visitors remained calm in front of a hostile Myanmar crowd. De Murga, Schröck and Mike Ott nailed their turns, with Marañon also not missing a vital kick from 12 yards.

It set up William Biassi Nyakwe, the man credited with the own goal when he deflected Schröck’s opener, with the chance to prolong his team’s campaign in the AFC Champions League. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t atone for his earlier mistake, as his attempt soared high and wide — much to the delight of the visiting team from Bacolod, the Philippines.

The reward for Ceres-Negros is a trip to Queensland, Australia, where they will seek to do one better than compatriots Global-Cebu. The 2016 Philippine champions also played against the Brisbane Roar, who dealt them a staggering 6-0 hammering this time last year. The match will be held at the Suncorp Stadium on January 23.

As for Shan United, a spot in the AFC Cup Group Stage awaits them and they may not have seen the last of Ceres-Negros just yet. If the Negrenses lose to either Brisbane Roar or Tianjin Quanjian, they will be reacquainted with the Burmese champions in Group F.

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Basketball

Abu Tratter plans to work his way to 2023 by continuing to do ‘the dirty work’

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Abu Tratter may have missed the jersey-giving ceremony that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas held for the 23 for 2023 cadets last Monday but he made sure to help out when the current batch needed him the most.

After helping the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers win the Sinulog Cup in Cebu a week ago, the 6-foot-7 Filipino-American did not hesitate to heed Gilas’ call, as they were undermanned for their second session in preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“I think it’s just an honor to put on this jersey, to be able to represent our country, to possibly represent our country in the future. It’s an honor,” shared the Laguna-native.

The 25-year old, who just celebrated his birthday last January 9, admitted that he was in awe of the talent inside the Meralco Gym. Like a fan, he wanted to take a few photo ops with the senior team’s Gabe Norwood and June Mar Fajardo.

“Actually, at first I was just shocked to see June Mar and Gabe, just to be able to be in the midst of them,” gushed the former DLSU Green Archer, who will suit-up for Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League. “I even asked them for a picture, and hopefully they’ll still give me one.

“It’s just humbling, definitely.”

However, the work has only began for Tratter. With five years to go until the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the two-time UAAP champion plans to continue to do what he does best — be the same scrapper that he is and hopefully catch the eye of Gilas’ brass.

“I think just doing the dirty work, of course. Giving whatever the team needs, rebound or any steals, any thing a dirty player would need to pick up on,” he said.

“That’s how it is, garbage into gold. Get anything, sweep up anything and try to put it back.”

Moreover, he will continue answering the call when Gilas needs him, as he himself is learning a lot from being surrounded by the country’s topflight cagers.

“Whenever I can. I want to be able to absorb all the information coming from here and hopefully apply it in the D-League and hopefully apply it on future practices, future games.”

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2018 FIBA 3X3 World Cup

Terrence Romeo invited to join Pilipinas 3×3 for World Cup

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Stronger than ever

Scoring sensation Terrence Romeo has been invited by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to join the Philippine team in the upcoming FIBA 3X3 World Cup, according to Philippine Star columnist Quinito Henson.

Romeo, who is currently out due to a right knee injury, has been in rehabilitation and is expected to miss the entire Philippine Cup campaign of the Globalport Batang Pier and the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“Baka sa second conference na ko makabalik kasi talagang gusto ko malakas ako pagbalik ko,” the 25-year-old shared during Chooks-to-Go Live last January 2.

SBP Executive Director Sonny Barrios personally met with the 6-foot guard, inviting him to be part of the Philippine team.

Romeo has plenty of 3×3 basketball experience under his belt.

Back in 2014, Romeo was part of the Manila West 3×3 team during the Manila Masters. He was adjudged as the tournament Most Valuable Player.

The 2018 3X3 World Cup will take place from June 8-12 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

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NCAA

Red Spikers extinguish Blazers for second win

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Shaking off a forgettable outing against the Perpetual Help Altas last January 11, the San Beda College Red Spikers vented their ire on defending champions College of Saint Benilde Blazers in four sets, 25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 26-24, and claimed their second win of the season, Friday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

“Sabi ng coaches kalimutan na yung talo,” shared captain Lorenze Santos of what transpired after that match.

So, in this game, the San Beda team poured on what they worked hard for to regain momentum. “Binuhos po namin lahat ng ginawa namin sa training [ngayon].”

After tight starts in all the first two sets, the Mendiola-based side pulled away to register the seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Nonetheless, summoning the heart of a champion and led by seniors Isaah Arda and Jethro Orian, the reigning champions pulled off gritty runs to snag the third set and making a tussle of the fourth.

Ultimately, Adrian Viray virtually ended the match with a vicious serve, which the Blazers failed to convert.

The prolific outside hitter finished with 17 points, 11 coming from attacks and five off blocks. Former skipper Mark Encino also registered 17 markers.

The Red Spikers (2-1) will face the Mapua University, also at 2-1, on Friday, January 19.

Orian was such a presence at the net, ending up with 20 points for the Taft-based squad.

The defending champions Blazers (2-1) will try to bounce back later that day against San Sebastian College (0-3).

The Scores:

SBC 3 – Viray 17, Enciso 17, Santos 11, Patenio 7, Amagan 7, Desuyo 3, Zabala 0, Genobaten 0, Manliclic 0, Casin L.

CSB 1 – Orian 20, Arda 18, Bacani 6, Basilan 4, Bautista 4, Magsino 2, Martinez 0, Garcia 0, San Miguel 0, Saldavia 0, Dy L.

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