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Marnelli Dimzon is in a league of her own


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The first time I met Coach Marnelli “Let” Dimzon, 35, the players in the locker room whispered stories of her time with the women’s national football team. She had given birth via C-section and a few months later played in the SEA Games. On this Sunday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I ask her about the years-old locker room chismis and she confirms it.

“2005 yun,” she says. After giving birth in January, she started running again the following month, and by May was back on the national team. “Kasi ako, ‘pag ginusto ko kasi talagang ginagawa ko.” It is a line she repeats several times in the interview.

Coach Let, as she is mostly called these days, is the head coach of the FEU Women’s Football Team. In the nearly 2 decades of existence of the UAAP Women’s Football Tournament, the Lady Tamaraws have emerged as the league’s most dominant side. As of last season, the Lady Tams have contested 12 of the 19 previous championships and have, in all, won 10 titles.

Under Coach Let, FEU have won 3 championships in a row and are looking to improve on that record going into UAAP Season 78.

In addition to being the mentor to the Tamaraws, Coach Let is also the head coach of the Under-14 Girls’ National Team. A team, like the Lady Tamaraws, she’s led to historic highs.

In 2014, the U-14 Girls squad reached the final of the ASEAN Regional Championships. It came as a surprise as the Philippines, in any age group, has never been known as a powerhouse in the region. En route to the finals, team Philippines defeated Singapore, Cambodia, and defending champions and hosts Vietnam. In the semis they squeezed past Myanmar 2-1, prior to losing to Thailand by the same margin in the final.

At the press conference that greeted the squad back home, Coach Let said the second place finish was “unexpected” as the U-14 Girls only had a month to prepare, and had placed fourth in the same tournament the year prior.

I ask Coach Let of her proudest coaching moment so far. Without skipping a beat she cites the U-14 Girls’ unlikely run to the ASEAN finals as her favorite moment.

“Yung U-14, syempre, kasi first. History yun [unlike] yung sa FEU [na] marami na rin kasi.”

At this last bit, she laughs and qualifies her statement. “Pride ko yun as coach and player na hindi ko tinatawanan. Utang na loob ko sa FEU. Kaya yung work ko rin, pansinin mo, dedication ko, iba. Kung hindi dahil sa FEU wala ako dito.”

“Kung hindi dahil sa FEU wala ako dito.”

Born to father Feliciano, a tricycle driver, and mother Zenaida, a food vendor, in Valenzuela City, Coach Let had her start in sports as a track and field athlete competing in middle distance.

“I started playing for FEU in 1998,” recalls Coach Let. “Sa FEU na mismo when I was second year college. Before [that] I was in track and field from grade school until high school, then nag-first year ako sa FEU for track and field. Second year ako nag-football. Under Coach Plagata pa. ”

Women’s football in the UAAP started as an official sport in school year 1997-1998. In Season 63, just the second edition of the event, FEU went against defending champions DLSU for the title. DLSU had swept the elimination rounds to hold a twice-to-beat advantage in the finals.

LA Salle were twice-to-beat and twice beaten, and Coach Let—then known to teammates as Marnelli “Letlet” Salvador—was given Most Valuable Player honors.

“It was always difficult to play against FEU since they had a lot of fast and experienced players,” shares Marielle Benitez, former DLSU stalwart and former women’s national team captain. “Coach Let was one of them. She was a fast player who could play in the center or on the wings. She could deliver crosses accurately [and] she was also one of the best headers—so we had to make sure we had someone defending her.”

Coach Let as a player for FEU in 2001.

Coach Let as a player for FEU in 2001.

Comparing the FEU program then and now, Coach Let says a lot has changed.

“Wala kaming field noon. Dati nag-re-rent lang kami or sa Luneta lang. Wala kaming sariling field, so para samin malaki yung challenge na na-achieve namin yung championships na wala kaming regular field. Yung nagdadala samin noon yung motivation ni Coach Plagata at yung experience ng players. Hindi pa namin nakukuha yung grand slam noon, pero lagi kaming fighting for finals.”

In 2013, FEU opened a brand-new artificial turf field in their Diliman campus. The following year, they achieved the feat of a back-to-back grand slam in football, defending their titles in the men’s, women’s and junior’s divisions in the UAAP. Much may have changed, but the school’s winning mentality has stayed the same.

Season 63 proved to be Coach Let’s last playing year in the UAAP. In 2002, in what was supposed to be her senior year, she admits to having failed a pre-requisite class that shifted her into her degree program’s new curriculum. The semester after failing math, she says, “Nung pag-enrol ko uli, [instead] na 18 units, naging 56 units. So nag-stop na ako.” It was this turn of events that led Coach Let to transition into coaching full-time.

“Binigyan ako ng chance ni Coach [Marlon] Maro na mag-coach ng grassroots and doon naging raket na rin sakin hanggang sa mga napasok ako sa mga club teams.”

Prior to becoming head coach of the FEU Women’s Football Team in 2010, Coach Let had been assistant coach under Malou Rubio from 2005 to 2009, and then assistant coach to the team under FEU football program head Kim Chol Su in 2009. Coach Let says her time spent with the Korean mentor—known in football circles as “Master” Kim—was formative of her own development as a coach.

“Lahat ng sinasabi ni Master Kim, may notes ako. So nung binigay na sakin yung team dun ko pinasok lahat ng natutunan ko parang kinombine ko lahat ng natutunan ko from Master Kim and sa iba.”

Watching FEU play in the UAAP, whether it’s their women’s, men’s, or junior’s team, there is a common adherence to slick passing football built on what Master Kim calls the twenty “foundation skills”. Coach Let says in training this means emphasis on proper body position and ball movement, with corrections done at every step, if necessary. “Yun yung magandang natutunan ko. Since nasa grassroots level rin yung hawak ko, nagagamit ko talaga siya sa lahat.”

In 2015 Coach Let was able to watch the Women’s World Cup in Canada as a delegate in the congress held by FIFA to promote the women’s game. The final was played between USA and Japan, a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final.

On this, Coach Let recalls her days as a player for the national team. She played against Japan once too, albeit in a 15-nil loss in 2003.

For my last round of questions, I ask Coach Let who her favorite player is and she cites the Japanese midfielder, Homare Sawa, the Nadeshiko’s captain during their 2011 World Cup-winning run. Sawa made her debut for Japan in 1993, against the Philippines, where the then-15 year-old scored 4 goals.

As we watch the games from the bleachers, Coach Let tells me offhand, “Masaya ako pag naglalaro. Mas gusto ko na nandito ako kaysa nasa bahay.”

To a woman who has found life and success in football, this says much. She found her calling here. She found love here, married in 2004 to a fellow football player, Jimmy Dimzon. Of her daughter Kyle, now 11, she says she wouldn’t mind her pursuing a career in football either.

In 2013, after a 12 year gap in schooling, Coach Let went back to college and finished her degree in financial management. She felt like she had no right to tell her daughter to study hard if she herself had never finished school.

“Kailangan ko na din tapusin, so if ever mawala ako sa football may panghahawakan ako.”

In sports, as in any field, there are people who loom larger than life. Coach Let is not one of those people. In conversations she is quiet and unassuming. She is of the mold, perhaps harder to emulate, of the much-idealized but rarely seen role model. Asked on her coaching motto, Coach Let says, “Dapat never ka mag-stay sa level mo. Laging push yourself to the next level.”

Hard work is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Coach Marnelli “Let” Dimzon is in a league of her own precisely because she constantly exceeds her level.

Let Dimzon w Season 76 line up

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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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