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PSL rookies Micek, Tolenada just happy to be home after volleyball hiatus

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Petron rookie Alexa Micek jumped a good two feet in the air with both her arms raised, shouting at the top of her lungs to celebrate a Petron point before landing and forming a circle with her teammates. The sonance enveloped the entire Mall of Asia Arena, injecting energy inside the building.

She kept doing it for about three to four straight rallies which were won by Petron. Understandably so, after being out of the volleyball court for more than two years, Micek just wanted to celebrate her return to action.

“It is so much fun. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Volleyball has always been a passion of mine, and I love celebrating,” Micek said. “That’s what we are here for and every point is worth celebrating. This is just the beginning. We had an exciting first day, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.”

Ditto on the other side of the net, when no. 1 overall pick, Iris Tolenada, clenched her left fist and threw punches in the air after a Philips Gold point. Whenever the team committed an error, she was there motivating and reaching out to her teammates to lead them.

Not even at a hundred percent, as she hasn’t been on a volleyball court for a year as well, Tolenada still delivered a high-caliber performance in the Philippine SuperLiga opener, and proved that the league is a fitting place for the Fil-American rookies’ return.

It’s relieving to get the first game jitters out, and playing here is really different from what I’ve played in throughout my whole career. I love what I do, and I am thankful I can still play,” the California-based Tolenada said.

The Blaze Spikers went on to sweep Philips Gold to punch in their first win in the 2015 PSL All-Filipino Conference, but regardless of the result, the two are just happy to be back after a long layoff.

The Long Road

Tolenada, whose parents are from Aurora and Tarlac, was only four years old when she moved to the United States. When she was seven, a volleyball hit her in the arm while inside a small gym, and she immediately vowed to never touch a volleyball again.

Fortunately, her sister eventually got her hooked on volleyball when she was 12, and from there she built a decorated career for San Francisco State University. She copped a handful of achievements including CCAA Freshman of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and SFSU Female Athlete of the Year.

Tolenada skipped a year, however, to focus on her academics before playing for the Northern California Volleyball Association.

The 21-year-old setter wanted to suit up for the PSL as early as last year, although things did not work out well. Fortunately, Philips Gold was persistent enough in chasing Tolenada.

“I wanted to play in the Super Liga, but things did not work out last year. This year we were more prepared, and my parents helped me. We saw the application online and just took off from there,” Tolenada said.

“Philips Gold was the one that was very loyal to me since the first day, and they welcomed me with open arms, which is a good feeling for me.”

Micek, meanwhile, went on to become a civil engineer for two years after playing Libero for the North Carolina State University. She’s been out for a good 800 days before a visit last December changed everything.

She dropped by the archipelago to visit her younger brother, Cole, who plays for the Ateneo de Manila University basketball training pool, and from there learned about the PSL through family friends.

Micek landed a spot with Petron. Despite the adjustment to play as an opposite hitter this time around, the 23-year-old spiker is just glad to be playing volleyball again.

“Now that I am back, I felt I never left. It’s really fulfilling and it makes my heart happy,” she said. Embraced The rookies have also been mindful of how big volleyball is in the country, and when they stepped on stage for opening day, Micek and Tolenada were no exceptions to the jitters. They could not escape the tremendous aura, and it felt like a newfound excitement for the two. “It’s great feeling the support. Players play for themselves or whatever reason but having a fanbase there to root for you makes you enjoy the game even more,” Micek shared. “The coaches are great, and since I am transitioning, they are the ones helping me with that. They help me with the technical aspect and they have been very welcoming.”

For Tolenada, just being inside a massive arena – something she was not accustomed to back in college – already meant something else. Moreover, when she saw all the people who attended, she knew she would be in for a great ride.

“For my college, we didn’t really have a big gym. We usually play in a small gym. The other schools have and when we play against them we have to adjust,” she shared.

“The people here are very dedicated in watching the games. Here, it’s a different story. All the screaming and yelling, you don’t get that much in the US.”

Tolenada has been in the country for about two months, and in that stretch has been all about trying to reach her desired form.

“It’s definitely getting back in shape, getting my body ready for volleyball, getting the technique and I am still working on it,” she added.

There are still a few adjustments for Micek and Tolenada to reach the top of their respective games, but there is enough reason to be delighted in doing it.

After all, there is no place like home.

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