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PSL rookies Micek, Tolenada just happy to be home after volleyball hiatus

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Petron rookie Alexa Micek jumped a good two feet in the air with both her arms raised, shouting at the top of her lungs to celebrate a Petron point before landing and forming a circle with her teammates. The sonance enveloped the entire Mall of Asia Arena, injecting energy inside the building.

She kept doing it for about three to four straight rallies which were won by Petron. Understandably so, after being out of the volleyball court for more than two years, Micek just wanted to celebrate her return to action.

“It is so much fun. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Volleyball has always been a passion of mine, and I love celebrating,” Micek said. “That’s what we are here for and every point is worth celebrating. This is just the beginning. We had an exciting first day, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.”

Ditto on the other side of the net, when no. 1 overall pick, Iris Tolenada, clenched her left fist and threw punches in the air after a Philips Gold point. Whenever the team committed an error, she was there motivating and reaching out to her teammates to lead them.

Not even at a hundred percent, as she hasn’t been on a volleyball court for a year as well, Tolenada still delivered a high-caliber performance in the Philippine SuperLiga opener, and proved that the league is a fitting place for the Fil-American rookies’ return.

It’s relieving to get the first game jitters out, and playing here is really different from what I’ve played in throughout my whole career. I love what I do, and I am thankful I can still play,” the California-based Tolenada said.

The Blaze Spikers went on to sweep Philips Gold to punch in their first win in the 2015 PSL All-Filipino Conference, but regardless of the result, the two are just happy to be back after a long layoff.

The Long Road

Tolenada, whose parents are from Aurora and Tarlac, was only four years old when she moved to the United States. When she was seven, a volleyball hit her in the arm while inside a small gym, and she immediately vowed to never touch a volleyball again.

Fortunately, her sister eventually got her hooked on volleyball when she was 12, and from there she built a decorated career for San Francisco State University. She copped a handful of achievements including CCAA Freshman of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and SFSU Female Athlete of the Year.

Tolenada skipped a year, however, to focus on her academics before playing for the Northern California Volleyball Association.

The 21-year-old setter wanted to suit up for the PSL as early as last year, although things did not work out well. Fortunately, Philips Gold was persistent enough in chasing Tolenada.

“I wanted to play in the Super Liga, but things did not work out last year. This year we were more prepared, and my parents helped me. We saw the application online and just took off from there,” Tolenada said.

“Philips Gold was the one that was very loyal to me since the first day, and they welcomed me with open arms, which is a good feeling for me.”

Micek, meanwhile, went on to become a civil engineer for two years after playing Libero for the North Carolina State University. She’s been out for a good 800 days before a visit last December changed everything.

She dropped by the archipelago to visit her younger brother, Cole, who plays for the Ateneo de Manila University basketball training pool, and from there learned about the PSL through family friends.

Micek landed a spot with Petron. Despite the adjustment to play as an opposite hitter this time around, the 23-year-old spiker is just glad to be playing volleyball again.

“Now that I am back, I felt I never left. It’s really fulfilling and it makes my heart happy,” she said. Embraced The rookies have also been mindful of how big volleyball is in the country, and when they stepped on stage for opening day, Micek and Tolenada were no exceptions to the jitters. They could not escape the tremendous aura, and it felt like a newfound excitement for the two. “It’s great feeling the support. Players play for themselves or whatever reason but having a fanbase there to root for you makes you enjoy the game even more,” Micek shared. “The coaches are great, and since I am transitioning, they are the ones helping me with that. They help me with the technical aspect and they have been very welcoming.”

For Tolenada, just being inside a massive arena – something she was not accustomed to back in college – already meant something else. Moreover, when she saw all the people who attended, she knew she would be in for a great ride.

“For my college, we didn’t really have a big gym. We usually play in a small gym. The other schools have and when we play against them we have to adjust,” she shared.

“The people here are very dedicated in watching the games. Here, it’s a different story. All the screaming and yelling, you don’t get that much in the US.”

Tolenada has been in the country for about two months, and in that stretch has been all about trying to reach her desired form.

“It’s definitely getting back in shape, getting my body ready for volleyball, getting the technique and I am still working on it,” she added.

There are still a few adjustments for Micek and Tolenada to reach the top of their respective games, but there is enough reason to be delighted in doing it.

After all, there is no place like home.

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Raymond Almazan ejected in return

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Photo by PBA Images

It was supposed to be a redemption game for Raymond Almazan after he was benched last Wednesday for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters against the Phoenix Fuel Masters, for disciplinary reasons. But unfortunately, it went the the other way around.

The six-foot-eight center was ejected in the Elasto Painters’ match versus Kia Picanto on Friday evening at the Cuneta Astrodome, following a near-brawl that took place between him and opposing big man Eric Camson.

The incident took place with 3:01 remaining in the second quarter, with the Picanto ahead 34-31. Almazan and Camson were both inside the paint looking for position to grab the missed three-pointer of Jeremy King.

Things then went chippy afterwards, as Camson elbowed Almazan. It did not sit well with the latter and he retaliated, leading to the near-brawl that saw both players swing their arms at each other.

Almazan and Camson had to be separated by their teammates and officials. Moments later, both of them were whistled for a flagrant foul penalty two and were ordered to leave the playing court for good.

Almazan finished with six points and three rebounds in six minutes and 10 seconds of action, while Camson exited the bout with 10 markers, five rebounds, and four assists in over 16 minutes of playing time.

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Fired-up Von Pessumal on Kiefer Ravena incident: ‘I’m not here to make any friends’

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Will bridges be burned?

Von Pessumal was heavily-scrutinized Friday evening after an incident with fellow Ateneo lifer Kiefer Ravena.

It took place with 9:50 left in the final frame of the San Miguel Beermen’s highly-charged tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors. After Marcio Lassiter launched a trey, Pessumal looked like he was aiming for the rebound. Instead, he simply charged towards Ravena and pushed him down.

Lassiter’s three-pointer counted, while Pessumal, who was blocked by Ravena in a fastbreak and then received a staredown moments prior, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul.

It was a surprising sight to see considering the amount of time he and Ravena have spent together — a bond that started ever since they were in high school. Even the second-generation star admitted that he did not expect that from his former running buddy.

“I did not expect that at all,” said the NLEX rookie.

But Pessumal downplayed such incident despite attempts by scribes to make him elaborate what had really transpired during that moment.

“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the game,” the league sophomore said after the match which they won 109-98. “I don’t wanna say anything, I’m sorry.

“It’s part of the game. Whatever move on. Not a big deal.”

Asked if he was motivated to face Ravena, whom he had shared three UAAP juniors titles, two UAAP seniors crowns, and a SEA Games gold medal with, the 24-year-old shared that he approached Friday’s bout the way he usually does.

“I wouldn’t say motivated [versus Kiefer], I mean, it’s just like any other game. When I play, I don’t see who’s guarding me, I just play,” said the 6-foot-2 swingman.

“I play to win all the time.”

The incident he and Ravena figured in shadowed his performance of 10 points on 50 percent shooting off the bench — the second time he had scored in double figures this season. After Friday, Pessumal is averaging 8.25 points.

“We have to sustain the level of excellence that they (starters) have. Our job is — I wouldn’t say support, but — when we get in, we should bring the level higher so when they come back, the game is easier for them,” he said.

Pessumal was then asked if he and Ravena met each other after the buzzer sounded as the two did not even shake hands after the contest. But, through a short yet strong response, the 24-year-old said that they did not.

“I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t know, after the game?,” he expressed.

“I’m a professional basketball player, I’m not here to make any friends.”

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Yeng Guiao denies using racial slur against Chris Ross

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During the post-game of the San Miguel Beermen’s victory over the NLEX Road Warriors, reigning Coach of the Year Leo Austria said that NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao had called Chris Ross the “N” word, which had caused the commotion.

According to Chris, tinawagan siya ng nigger or ganiyan,” said Austria. “I don’t know but that’s what he explained to me because I confronted Chris Ross because he’s one of the most important players in my team.

“But that’s the thing he doesn’t want to hear so nag-flare up yung bata so I cannot blame him.”

However, Guiao denied that he blurted out racial slurs against San Miguel’s Chris Ross.

“Hindi. Hindi ko tinawag na N-word. Ewan ko kung may nakarinig. Pero hindi,” clarified the fiery tactician moments after their 98-109 defeat, their third straight after starting the 2018 Philippine Cup with two straight wins.

That tussle, according to Guiao, was just filled with trash talking against each other, as he had felt the need to retaliate. In fact, Guiao was even caught by the TV camera saying “son of a bitch” towards the Filipino-American point guard.

“Daldal siya ng daldal eh. Eh sa akin naman kapag ganon, siguro respeto nalang. Lumayo ka nalang tutal mananalo naman na kayo,” he said. “I didn’t understand what he was saying, what he was talking about.

“Nakipagtrash-talking din ako sa kanya.”

Furthermore, the 58-year-old was also caught by the cameras flipping the bird — in one quick motion — also directed at Ross.

“Oo. Kasama na rin yun.

“Pero ano naman eh, it’s part of, siguro, psychological warfare. Malakas din siya mang-asar. Hindi lang naman sa amin. Everytime naman na mga ganoong skirmishes, he also knows what he’s capable of,” the seven-time champion coach furthered.

But more than this scuffle, it has been a stressful time for Guiao and the Road Warriors. They have now gone down to 2-3 in the team standings, and the mentor sees an urgent need to end this slump immediately.

“We have to arrest it very soon. Ang susunod na laro namin ay versus Rain or Shine sa Friday. So we need to go back to 50 percent win-loss level para at least may chance ka na maka-playoffs. That’s going to be a crucial game for us,” he stressed.

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Kiefer Ravena shocked with Von Pessumal’s shove: ‘I did not expect that at all’

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Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have been teammates ever since they were in high school, winning three UAAP juniors crowns together. They won two championships together in the seniors level and even played together in Gilas. They were inseparable.

Friday evening however, they were playing for separate camps.

Ravena admitted that he never expected a shove to come from Pessumal during the NLEX Road Warriors’ clash with San Miguel Beermen.

In an off-ball situation, Pessumal charged at Ravena, sending the rookie down to the floor with 9:50 remaining in the final frame. He was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul, and Ravena sank one from the line.

“I did not expect that at all,” admitted Ravena after the match in which they lost, 98-109 — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start. “But hopefully Von doesn’t take it personal.

“I’m just doing my job. They won the game.”

Ravena insisted that there wasn’t any physicality between him and Pessumal prior to that, but he thinks that his former Gilas teammate may have gotten irked by his staredown after blocking him on a fastbreak play early in the fourth.

“When that fastbreak happened — the same exact possession na I challenged him, I looked at him, and after that yun na yung nangyari,” said the 23-year-old guard. “But I never instigated something to provoke Von to do that.

“Probably nung tinignan ko siya.”

Moreover, the second overall pick of the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft felt that that incident “started all the commotions during the end game (laughs). Yun yung pinaka-una eh. And with that, the team got fired up and it worked for them.”

He may be right, for the game saw more skirmishes after that: from teammate Michael Miranda kicking Chris Ross to the groin, and with his head coach Yeng Guiao figuring in a heated verbal war also against Ross.

But then, Ravena made it clear that it was never a plan of his to put down somebody, especially someone like Pessumal who he sees as a brother for life.

“You know, Von and I, we go way back. Things like this hopefully don’t become too personal.

“I have no intention na ipapahiya yung tao or sasaktan mo yung tao. Wala namang ganun. Laro-laro lang,” said NLEX’s leading scorer.

It was somehow a night to remember for Ravena, but for all the wrong reasons. After Friday’s loss that sent their card to 2-3, the veteran internationalist now sees the need for him and the Road Warriors to push the panic button.

“‘Di na pwedeng sabihin palaging kailangan namin matuto eh. Pangatlong sunod na,” the second-generation cager expressed.

“Kailangan siguro naming umaksyon.”

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