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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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