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PSL Campfire: Just How Good is Iris Tolenada?

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After a mundane performance in the PSL last season, the Philips Gold Lady Slammers (formerly the Mane ‘n Tail Lady Stallions) overhauled their lineup in a huge way.

Adding Michelle Gumabao and Melissa Gohing into the roster has cured a lot of Coach Francis Vicente’s headaches from last season. Perhaps their most important addition was the first overall pick in the recent draft, setter Iris Tolenada. Few people knew just how good Tolenda is during the draft. A quick Google search unveils her decorated collegiate career with multiple awards and school records to boast.

Many were eager to see the Fil-Am setter in action but the first three Philips Gold games haven’t exactly been smooth sailing. From that small sample, what do we really know about Iris Tolenada?

Take this GIF of Iris Tolenada playing for the SFSU Gators:

Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire: Just How Good is Iris Tolenada?

After their opponent (CSU-LA) somehow digs up their attack and hands them a free ball, Iris and the rest of the Gators regroup and setup a gorgeous back set to the opposite spiker. Though CSU-LA quickly got back into their positions, the Gators had setup the perfect play; utilizing all three of their attackers so that CSU-LA’s blockers couldn’t load up on any single attacker. Though that may be just a GIF, it’s basically a microcosm of the athleticism and fast-paced play in the USA – currently ranked number one in the world in Women’s Volleyball.

The play may seem basic, but notice how quickly Iris set the ball to her spiker. Her setting form is consistent – she barely leans in any direction as she seemingly just flicks the ball to her attacker with minimal motion. Watching her play in the PSL, you can see why everyone in Philips Gold was so excited in the draft.

However, her high-level setting has led to foreseen growing pains with her teammates that arguably haven’t played with a setter as good as her. “Ambilis niya [Tolenada] mag-set. Kailangan pa namin mag-adjust at masanay sa kanya,” said Philips Gold Head Coach Francis Vicente during a preseason press conference.

With a mind to keep opposing blockers on their toes, Tolenada usually gives low, fast sets even to her outside spikers. Admittedly, her teammates have had trouble adjusting to her fast paced setting in their games and Iris has been very receptive to their feedback. “It’s not too hard to adjust. But sometimes I forget and I want to run them fast just to try to beat the block, and I need them to communicate with me which they do so, it’s been easier for me,” remarked Tolenada.

In their first two matches, Philips Gold did show signs of unfamiliarity most evident in their tight three-set loss to Shopinas, wherein they gave up 34 errors. The Lady Slammers were able to turn around immediately in the second day of the back-to-back, dismantling Mane ‘n Tail in three sets. Philips Gold surrendered only 19 errors in their triumph, a bright sign for a team still building chemistry.

Coach Vicente has fully bought in to Tolenada’s fast paced style saying in multiple occasions that the rest of the team needs to adjust to her and not the other way around. Considering Tolenada’s laundry list of accomplishments, Vicente is only being practical. In her freshman year at SFSU, her team made an unprecedented run to the NCAA Tournament after decades of futility. They managed to upset the nationally ranked UC-San Diego and regional contender, CSU-LA. A perennial All-Conference selection, Tolenada also holds the distinction of being the only player in SFSU history to earn a CCAA MVP award. She also holds her school record for most assists (excellent sets) and digs.

As the season wears on and they continue to cultivate their chemistry, expect Philips Gold to fully turn things around and barge into the PSL-AFC title picture. Tolenada is already one of the country’s best and most experienced setters. It’s only a matter of time until she gets used to local volleyball.

“Oh no. I’m never going to be at the level that I want to be. I can never be complacent with myself. So I always have to work hard,” Tolenada quipped.

Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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