Over a week into the NCAA Season 95 Men’s Volleyball Tournament, Perpetual Help has proven that it can still live up to the billing as the golden standard of the league, even without its undisputed ace spiker for the past several years in Joebert Almodiel.
The Altas belted last year’s runner-up St. Benilde with a straight-set whipping in the season opener, before following it up with an emphatic sweep of San Sebastian. Their dominance was on full display in the early cruise, and Louie Ramirez was at the center of it all.
Ramirez was a revelation for Perpetual, averaging 17.5 points in the two-game stretch. This, despite his conversion from middle blocker to open hitter just a few weeks before the season started.
“Noong Spikers’ Turf, middle pa po ako noon. Mga ilang linggo lang [bago mag-NCAA] bago ako nilipat sa open spiker,” the 19-year-old shared.
For his part, Perpetual head coach Sammy Acaylar admitted that he had seen a bright future for Ramirez, paving the way to the adjustment.
“So nakitaan ko siya ng potential na maging part ng national team,” remarked the former head coach of the Philippine squad, who has also produced calibre athletes who have represented flag and country in Jack Kalingking, Rey Taneo and Bonj Castel.
He aadded, “And I’m thinking na sana meron din sa NCAA na katulad ng UAAP, na may pumunta sa ibang bansa na katulad nila [Bryan] Bagunas, nila [Marck Espejo]. Inambisyon ko ‘yun, na sana magkaroon ang NCAA ng katulad n’un.”
The sudden change in position, of course, has placed its rigors for Ramirez.
The Pangasinan-native has had to tweak his approach on offense in accordance to the tosses he is now receiving; as well as accustom himself to a wider range of attacks that has expanded towards the backrow. Not to mention the pressure that comes along filling the void vacated by Almodiel, a two-time league MVP.
“‘Yung adjustment from quicker to open spiker, mahirap kasi hindi ko pa nakukuha ‘yung adjustment, lalo sa pagpasok. Tapos parang may takot pa rin kasi nga pinalitan ko ‘yung isa sa malalakas sa amin,” he admitted.
But amid all this, Ramirez feels grateful that his coach has given him the trust to shoulder such a huge responsibility.
“Masaya naman kasi ‘yun nga, nakaka-inspire kasi sinasabihan naman ako na ‘Kaya mo ‘yan’, kasi nga parang pinalitan mo na kaya i-grab mo na,” the soft-spoken Ramirez gushed.
Having seen that his ward is starting to come into his own, Acaylar feels is elated that Ramirez has accepted the role wholeheartedly.
“Nakita niya na dito siya aasenso… Kumbaga, dito siya magkakaroon ng pangalan,” the season tactician expressed. “It’s good kasi madali niyang na-accept. Actually ‘yung training namin, noong nawala ‘yung open spiker namin at siya pinalit ko, nag-adjust-adjust pa siya. Pero up to now, nakuha na niya ‘yung rhythm ng game sa pagiging open spiker.
He then continued, “Gumanda receive, gumanda depensa. Yes, very quick learner siya and he’s happy with that position, ‘yan ang gusto niya.”
There is no denying that Ramirez has become a force to be reckoned with in the age-old league, emerging as an early contender for the highest individual honor. But as an integral cog to a team aiming for greatness, he’s aware that such recognition is nothing more than a footnote in his priority list.
“Makuha namin ‘yung three-peat na championship tapos makakuha ng award kung sakali. Yung pinaka-main goal talaga ‘yung three-peat.”