To say that the first Spikers’ Turf season was anything less than momentous would be totally undermining the league’s magnitude to the once severely overlooked sport of men’s volleyball. For the first time in more than two decades, a local commercial league successfully gathered the best men’s volleyball players into one league for a season filled with the exciting, testerone fueled volleyball that sat dormantly as women’s commercial volleyball began to take off.
Arguably the best volleyball club assembled, the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters gathered momentum from the start of the tournament and planted their flag atop the mountain of internal challenges and loaded teams they had to climb. The Ultra Fast Hitters rattled off eight straight games after starting 2-2 en route to the inaugural Spikers’ Turf title.
Though most of the credit should rightfully go to PLDT’s deep roster, head coach Odjie Mamon’s personnel management and midseason adjustments keyed the Ultra Fast Hitter’s title run. At the beginning of the season, Mamon admitted that though his team was filled to the brim with talent, it was a quite challenge having to put together a proper rotation. “Walang problema ‘yung team ko sa talent. My team is filled with superstars. But may mga kailangan pa talaga kami iwork-out when it comes to certain skills,” Mamon said after an early season, five-set loss to Champion Infinity.
Coach Odjie continued to toggle through his lineup and hit pay-dirt when he started utilizing his shake ‘n bake tandem of NCAA stars, Howard Mojica and John Vic De Guzman, more in the second round of eliminations and in their Finals showdown with Cagayan. “Iba ‘yung energy nila (De Guzman and Mojica). Everyone from the teams contributes positively kapag nailalaro. Iba lang talaga ‘yung liveliness ng NCAA players ko,” remarked Mamon after clinching the title last Tuesday.
Coach Odjie has always been a picture of confidence but it was during their winning streak that Mamon seemed most jovial in his coaching stint. After a turbulent season in the UAAP where he went double-duty for his alma matter UST, his happiness could be genuinely felt.
After an up-and-down season with the Golden Tigresses, Mamon opted to step down fro his post with the women’s team. “Malaki na ‘yung inadjust ko sa style ko of coaching for the women’s team. Siguro hindi lang talaga ako for the Golden Tigresses,” Mamon told reporters after announcing his move.
With the Tigers, Coach Odjie saw his team’s twice-to-beat advantage wilt away as their opponents, the then defending champions, NU found their groove in the Final Four. He also had to deal with a conduct issue when three of his seniors went on an unauthorized tryout with a local club team. He suspended the trio but eventually reinstated them after a week of deliberation after a crucial loss to the Adamson Falcons that wound up costing them the coveted no. 1 seed.
With all that in mind, Coach Odjie felt validated by his PLDT title. “Fullfilling,” quipped the Tigers’ mentor after Tuesday’s match. “Masaya ako with how the team played in the season. Malaki ‘yung naibigay ng PLDT sa akin personally, and sa men’s volleyball dito sa atin more importantly.” Mamon also coached PLDt to a title in the Air Force’s Commending General Cup before the Spikers’ Turf season.
Another Ultra Fast Hitter who found fulfillment in the title was Mamon’s star spiker in UST, Mark Alfafara. The General Santos native had won all there was to win in the UAAP, but he wanted to end his career with a title. After a couple of years of missing the Final Four, the Tigers made their way back to the big stage mostly through Alfafara’s routine offensive explosions. In the Final Four, the open hitter delivered a record 37-point performance in their first meeting with the NU Bulldogs but his twice-to-beat Tigers still fell short. NU went on to the Finals where they lost to Ateneo, a team UST beat twice in the elimination rounds.
Seeking to redeem himself, the former UAAP Best Scorer, Attacker, Blocker, Server, and MVP powered the Ultra Fast Hitters throughout the Spikers’ Turf season. Leading his team in scoring, Alfafara won the league’s Best Opposite Attacker plum and performed well enough in the title matches to net the Finals MVP award.
“Masarap talaga sa pakiramdam na manalo ng championship. Gustong gusto ko talaga matapos ‘yung career ko sa UST na may championship tulad noong unang taon ko kaya masakit talaga sa damdamin noong hindi nangyari ‘yun. Pero malaking pambawi ‘tong championship sa PLDT. Nakakafullfill na nakakatulong ako sa pag panalo ng championship,” said the accomplished beach volleyball player.
When asked about his continually growing stack of individual awards, Alfafara answered with his trademark humility. “Normal na tao lang naman ako na kayang mag-volleyball kaya malaki ang pasasalamat ko sa Diyos na binigyan niya ako ng pagkakataon maipakita at magamit ‘yung binigay niya sa aking talento. Malaki rin ‘yung naitutulong sa akin ng mga award na ‘to kasi malayo ako sa pamilya ko. Kapag nanalo ako ng mga ganito, at least nararamdaman ko na worth it ‘yung mga sakripisyo ko at saka may maipapakita ako sa paglalaro ko ng volleyball.”
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