Tomorrow will surely be a treat to all volleyball fans with the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference coming down to one final game.
The Ateneo De Manila University Lady Eagles breezed through the competetion up to the Final Four. After a hiccup in Game Two of their best-of-three series against UST, the Ladies from Loyola buckled down to blast the Tigresses and take Game Three. They further inspired thoughts of them sweeping the Finals after demolishing the NU Lady Bulldogs in Game One. But the Ladies in Blue and Gold had other ideas, serving up a nasty reply in Game Two with their lives on the line.
Usually, I’d write a primer for such a big game; a survival kit of sorts on what to expect from both teams. But a lot more goes into literally surviving one of these games. With the biggest game of the season at hand, what better time to set expectations on the experience of going to the game itself.
This is for you, the out-of-towner who drove miles just to watch your idol for the first time; this is for you, the guy courting a volleyball fan who thought it would be a good idea to take girly to the big game.
This for you, the dead-beat dad who only has his daughter for the weekend and really wants to make it up to her by spending the day watching her favorite sport. Chances are, you’re in for a long day.
But, read the following and your stress levels shouldn’t go up too high.
Get there early!
If you’re thinking about buying tickets at the venue tomorrow, you’re in my prayers.
Last week, there was already a huge line outside the FilOil Flying V Arena at 9 in the morning with the game slated to start at 12:45 in the afternoon. There were a bunch of people who wound up without tickets and had to wait outside the venue to catch a glimpse of their idol after the game. It didn’t help that the game coincided with a stacked UAAP Men’s Basketball lineup at the Araneta Coliseum, crowds still flocked San Juan. So, even with the big Ateneo-La Salle game on the same day, don’t expect the thousands of diehards to waiver.
This is already old hat, especially for Ateneo games at the Arena. During the UAAP season, game days at the San Juan Arena with both the Lady Eagles and the DLSU Lady Archers on the card usually get the same kind of turn out. Never will you see a more diverse crowd of housewives and high schoolers gathered to watch anything in this country. Only volleyball boasts that kind of draw.
So forget about going to morning mass. Get to the Arena as early as you can, bring an umbrella and an extra shirt and pray that you beat enough of the legion for a decent seat. Just visit the Lord’s house after the match.
Have a big breakfast
Unlike the Areneta Coliseum and MoA Arena, the San Juan Arena isn’t conveniently annexed to a mall so there are very few options for food. Of course, there will be Shakey’s pizza vendors roaming the venue, but, while delicious, the pizza isn’t exactly cheap.
There is a 7-11 across the street and three eateries scattered around P. Guevarra but those establishments tend to run out of stock quickly even with the anticipated high demand. Also, keep in mind that Arena security won’t let you bring food into the Arena.
Eat plentifully before trekking up San Juan and hydrate before entering the venue. With matters of the stomach, you’re always better off safe than sorry.
If you’re lucky enough to get into the venue ahead of other people, you’ll have dibs on virtually any seat you want. Aside from the VIP seats on the floor, there are no reserved seats so you’re pretty much free to sit wherever.
What to do with such freedom? Sit near the aircons! You’ll be tempted to take the seats nearest the action, but it’s going to be a two-hour ordeal and the SJA tends to get smolderingly humid with the combined body temperatures and sweat of aforementioned diverse fans. You better find the seats nearest the air-conditioning units of the Arena or else!
For those ringside, there are no sources of cold air near your seats (you still have the best seats, deal with the heat). The best air vents are located beside the highest seats in the lower box area. In the nosebleeds, there are vents scattered above and behind the higest seats. Sitting in those high seats always lends the risk of sitting near a school drum line, but personally, I prefer not smelling If it happens to be an overcast day with momentary cold drizzles, then temperature might not be an issue.
If you’re an NU fan going to your first game, don’t let the massive amounts of Ateneo supporters bring you down. This always happens. Should the Lady Eagles ever play a volleyball game against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Bimby Aquino-Yap, Alden and Yaya Dub, the combined forces of Alyfinity, Ellasanity, and (insert Ateneo player name here)-sanity would still outnumber the opposing sides supporters somehow. It’s like Ginebra’s Barangay only more united and generally less orenary probably due to their kangkong-less diet.
Sunday traffic is the manifestation of God’s mercy for most of us Pinoys after the hellish weekday hustle and bustle so getting to San Juan shouldn’t be an issue. It’s getting back home that’s going to be an issue.
As mentioned before, there aren’t really too many places to frolick around near the Arena after the game so people tend to head straight home or commute to somewhere else. Win or lose, it’s stress you choose as you’ll most likely be competing against those you cheered with for a ride out. No matter what event, this situation is what deters a lot of people from going to marquee games at San Juan. Unless you leave well before the game ends, you’ll be one of the thousands littered on the street outside, desperately waiting for a ride. If you aren’t too tired, you can always walk away from the crowd and wait elsewhere.
And parking also becomes a precious commodity. Unless you arrive really early, you’ll end up parking on an iffy spot or a place a brisk walk away from the venue. But don’t worry about the safety of your vehicle, criminals tend to do their work a good distance away from the nearest precinct and there are always cops around the venue.
So, what about the game though?
I’ve written it before in the primer for the series and everything pretty much transpired as predicted.
Ateneo walloped NU in Game One behind great games from MVP Alyssa Valdez and opposite hitter Kim Gequillana. NU not only had problems limiting their mistakes and miscues, they were also without Dindin Santiago-Manabat who was still in Vietnam at the time. With Manabat back for Game Two, NU played their hearts out, shoring up their floor defense and leaving the Lady Eagles dumbfounded. Veteran setter, Rubie De Leon explored her options masterfully while libero, Bia General had a career game, popping up even Alyssa Valdez’s unimpeded attacks.
The loss, really took a toll on the Lady Eagles after the match as has every loss they incurred in the past few tournaments. Ateneo whiplashed UST after they had lost previously and, given how hard Ateneo prepares after unsatisfactory performances, things don’t bode well for NU. Unsatisfied with her nine-point effort,look for Valdez to come back with a vengeance. The defending UAAP champs, for the first time in a long time, looked dazed, failing to make the plays or save the points that won them two UAAP titles. They’re primed to take their first SVL championship, but NU certainly won’t hand it to them.
The Lady Bulldogs had a performance reminiscent of their Game One win over the DLSU Lady Spikers in the Final Four of UAAP 77. The Sampaloc-based squad had everyone humming, blowing out their Taft counterparts in the process. Game Two didn’t go their way but they still drove La Salle to tilt.
Faced with the same situation this time around, NU sits at an arguably, more favorable position. Their two guest players plug gaps that would be easy to exploit had they not been there. Many are quick to point out Ateneo’s big game and international-level experience but this NU roster may have more with Myla Pablo, Jaja Santiago, Manabat, and De Leon all participating in some of the most pressure-packed matches of the year. Factor in that two of Ateneo’s current starters didn’t get a lot of playing time in their championship runs and their struggles seem less improbable.
“Wala na kaming mga coaches jan, ‘yung mga player na ang mag-dedecide ng outcome nito,” a teary-eyed NU head coach Roger Gorayeb said last Sunday.
This game may very well come down to the intangibles – who slept better, who is less fatigued from the previous week, who feels more confident. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see who wants to win more in a match or to spot those crumbling under the pressure. Both teams have won titles before and neither seems willing to surrender this crown.
Remember, volleyball is a team sport. We tend to treat it like basketball, looking for the team’s best player to step up in the most heated moments. But there aren’t any fourth quarters or isolation plays in volleyball. Teams win with consistent and relentless team effort – receiving, setting, and attacking with destructive intent.
Expect the best game of the season tomorrow. There are no more favorites.
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