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A season of blessings for Iris Tolenada

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One of the best weapons of the Philips Gold Lady Slammers is former San Fransciso State University (SFSU) setter and this year’s first overall pick, Iris Tolenada.

With Tolenada manning the helm of the Lady Slammers’ overhauled roster, Philips Gold improved their win-loss card to 5-5, as opposed to their 3-7 record in last year’s PSL Grand Prix, after their game against the Foton Tornadoes last Monday at the Cuneta Astrodome.

“We try to go in every match with the same mindset,” Tolenada said after the game. “So this match [against Foton] was very good for our team in terms of getting into the playoffs.”

Even though the team lost to Foton, they still have a shot in winning the coveted championship with a do-or-die playoff grudge match (opponent yet to be determined) this coming Saturday at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City, Quezon Province.

Early-season bumps

Despite bringing in a decorated collegiate resume here in Philippine soil, Tolenada and Philips Gold had a rough ride in the early parts of the season as the team only managed to win two of its first five games.

The team had opened its Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Conference campaign with a couple of straight-set losses to the Petron Blaze Spikers and the Shopinas.com Lady Clickers. Philips Gold, then, barged at the win column after capturing their first victory of the season by defeating the Mane ‘n Tail Lady Stallions in four sets. Afterwards, however, the team had split its next games with a loss against the Cignal HD Spikers and a crucial five-set win over the Foton Tornadoes.

Going through the numbers, Tolenada averaged norms of 3.6 points and 28.6 excellent sets in her first five outings for Philips Gold.

In addition, and at the same time laying down her observations, Tolenada cited that she and her teammates made constant efforts to adjust to each other’s tendencies, since she played volleyball differently during her days with SFSU. Likewise, Tolenada said that playing in the country’s hot weather was another thing she had to deal with since she got used to the climate back in States.

“I had lots of time to adjust. My teammates and my coaches helped me through it all,” added Tolenada. “I think everyone knows that the heat is getting to me, but there is nothing I can’t handle and can’t overcome.”

“I try to bring my game here, and my team does a really good job training me. With the heat, I’m not quite sure, but you know it’s getting a little hotter so I’m going to try to adjust faster.”

Rounding into form

As the cliché goes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

While the season continued to roll in a torrid pace, it became noticeably evident that Philips Gold effectively executed their game plan better, given the team’s improved familiarity and communication with each other.

Since losing to Petron to start the second round, Philips Gold finally uncorked their first winning streak of the season, winning back-to-back games against Shopinas.com and Cignal, to finally put their in-season adjustments to the test.

In those games, Head Coach, Francis Vicente, decided to shuffle between Tolenada and Hannah Espelita, the team’s backup setter, in order for them to dictate the pace of the game. In key situations, the gamble paid off with the team playing better particularly in their mode of attacking the defense.

“With all the hardwork we’ve been putting in, no one’s perfect, but we try our best every time,” Tolenada remarked on her team’s better outing in the second round. “I know my teammates’ tendencies and mine too, so we’re still trying our best but, you know, we can never control the other side of the court.”

Looking beyond

Aside from her daily PSL routines, Tolenada received another privilege as she was included in the all-PSL selection team that shall compete in the upcoming 2015 Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship, which will be held in Beijing and Tianjin, China from May 20 to 28.

“I’m very proud to represent this country and I hope they’re proud to have me represent them as well,” Tolenada added.

Their season may not have progressed the way they hoped it to be, but one thing that made Tolenada strive for more is the family culture embedded by her teammates and its management. It made Tolenada feel at home, and it eventually motivated her to go for the extra mile.

“It’s fun and the fans are definitely the best part around here and yeah, we don’t have that in the States. It’s really a fun atmosphere to play in. I love how open they were [teammates and management] to me and how welcoming they were. I know that my managers and everyone takes care of me and my teammates are like my sisters. We have fun on the court and off the court.”

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