The Champion Infinity Active Smashers were eliminated in the first stage of the inaugural Spikers Turf tournament last May 12, 2015 [aired on PTV 4 last May 15, 2015].
Even in defeat, it can’t be denied that the Active Smashers were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the tournament as they went toe-to-toe with the league’s top teams. The team had a “never say die” mindset best exemplified by their games against the Philippine Army Troopers, a fifth set classic against the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, and a game of the year candidate against PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters. The team eventually bowed out of the tournament, due to the quotient system, against the Cignal HD Spikers.
It was a memorable run for the team formerly known as the Systema Active Smashers. Tiebreaker Times caught up with team captain Sylvester “Rocky” Honrade and Richard “Goma” Gomez to reflect on the team’s first outing this year and what the future holds for Champion Infinity and men’s volleyball.
“We had a difficult time with the first two games and then we made some adjustments with our offense but nabitin lang talaga during the last game,” Gomez told us about the teams early struggles that eventually recurred in the most pivotal time of the tournament.
Former San Beda Red Lion Honrade then added that they lacked the time needed to prepare for their final game since they only had a day to prepare for Cignal. “We fell short with the preparation kasi sa schedule din naman ng mga players mahirap itugma. We are a team composed of professionals, pero hindi namin puwede sabihin na yun ang dahilan. Through all that, the mindset of the team pa rin is never say die. The outcome of the last game was a result of Cignal being more prepared than us at naaral nila yung kilos nila against us.”
Unlike the majority of the teams competing in the tournament, Champion Infinity is a team composed of professionals that only joined the tournament because of their love for the game. While everyone knows that Richard Gomez is an actor, both he and Honrade are also entrepreneurs. “It’s kind of difficult in a way to balance our work and practice schedule but we made the necessary adjustments for our time for training. That’s why all our training happens at night. We start at eight in the evening and end at 11,” the 49-year old actor-athlete said about the team’s daily grind. Honrade then added that, “sobrang hirap to schedule, but that is where maturity comes in. It proves our commitment to something that we love. Kung ako na lang, as an example, kung tutuusin dapat tinututukan ko na lang ang mga negosyo na-deploy ko pero siyempre nag-commit ako dito so I need to make time. I learned to be strict with time management.” It should also serve as a lesson to the team’s young guns, “Sana yung mga players namin na bata-bata pa, like sila Joven [Camaganakan] and Myco [Antonio], will learn from us.”
But through all the team’s ups and downs, the Active Smashers are more than just a team, they are a family. “We set the team not only for playing. It’s really a brotherhood, diyan nag start. Iba talaga ang bonding namin with each other. With the guidance of the Gomez and Torres family, we’re really blessed to be part of a team that treated us as a family. Sabi nga sa Fast and the Furious, we don’t have friends, we got family. Yun yung naging motto ng team namin. Wala talagang iwanan tulad nila AJ [Pareja], mga Systema boys na Champion boys na ngayon, Bench boys, still brothers pa rin hanggang ngayon and still connected pa rin kami,” the 6’5 captain said about how close-knit Champion is on and off the court. “We’re very close. We try to bring the team together all the time. Kasi we come from different places, different backgrounds, and different teams. Bringing them together is a way to build comradery, let them bond and know each other.” Goma added about the team’s bright future.
But the recently inducted Philippine Super Liga Hall of Famer, Richard Gomez, has worries about the plan of bringing in imports for the next conference of the men’s volleyball tournament. “Hopefully, the second conference of the SVL won’t include imports since di pa hinog ang men’s volleyball unlike the women’s. It also changes everything. The budget becomes bigger. Hopefully it stays all-Filipino.”
Nonetheless, both Gomez and Honrade are already looking forward to the next conference with much optimism. “Ang team ng Champion, kahit nag-iba ang pangalan, we’re still the same team. I mean now we have time to rest but what we plan is to stay strong, stay healthy and continue our training. This is just the first quarter of the year so marami pang papasok. Hopefully ma-improve namin yung lapses namin in the next tournament we play,” Honrade said with a smile. Goma closed the interview with what Champion Infinity needs to do during the off-season, “we have to start training earlier and we need to recruit bigger players. We have to be a more defensive team since a lot of our players are great on offense.”
With a combination of youth and experience, the Champion Infinity is a franchise that is set on competing in the men’s local volleyball scene for the long haul. But as Honrade said, the Active Smashers are more than just a team, they are family.
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