Tina Salak strutted out of the Malolos Sports and Convention Center and approached reporters with all the vigor of players 20 years younger.
Army’s longtime setter has been through every high and low in her career – from championships to injuries – taking her team’s most recent loss with grace and optimism.
After starting the PSL All-Filipino Conference undefeated through six matches, the Lady Troopers fell to injuries one by one, leaving their senior players to fill roles they could have filled five years ago but not now.
If anything, Salak is the perfect representation of the Lady Troopers – a team of volleyball legends like Michelle Carolino, Nene Bautista, and Rachel Daquis trying to keep up with the current faces of Philippine volleyball.
Just like the brave men and women out of the armed forces, Salak and the Lady Troopers continued to fight the odds. After a three-conference hiatus, Army went back to the PSL and immediately took home the Invitational Cup in the summer, beating a selection of Thai National Team players. They could have won the All-Filipino Cup as well if not for injuries to key players.
“Ganoon talaga, sinubukan namin punan ‘yung mga kulang sa ensayo. Siyempre, hindi kami sumuko pero mahirap talaga kapag marami nang nawalang players,” Salak reflected.
“Kumbaga sa giyera, thankful na lang kami na wala ng casualties na nangyari sa amin at nakapaglaro pa rin kami ng maayos. Kinapos lang talaga.”
Salak has been getting the “Tim Duncan-treatment” all season – being saved for the biggest matches’ crucial stretches. When her team needed her most, like Duncan, Salak turned back the hands of time.
“Siyempre hindi ako papatalo sa mga bata – proud to be 40 na ako.”
“Kahit pagod na talaga ako di ko na lang ipapakita. Yung mga teammates ko makikita nilang kahit ilang transitions na, standing tall pa ‘rin ako kaya hindi sila pwedeng mapagod,” she remarked.
Another resemblance she has to the NBA great is she won’t be playing past 2016. For the past three years, Salak has mulled retirement after back and knee issues.
“Dapat talaga last year, tapos na ako. Pero nag-request ang Army na kaya ko pa naman ng isang taon.”
“Kaya itong 2016 na talaga ang last year ko,” she revealed adding that she has already received several coaching offers that she is looking forward to exploring.
With the PSL season coming to a close, Army’s battle for third place match against the Petron Tri Activ Spikers could be Salak’s last tour of duty. Reports indicate that Army will not be participating in the Grand Prix Conference due to other commitments.
After the PSL, Army still has the AFP Olympics in September. For Salak, she’s just happy to be going through this part of her career with this team.
“Sobrang proud ko sa ipinakita ng team, sobrang proud ako na kasama ko ang tropa na ‘to at sa lahat ng pinagdaanan namin.
“Hindi man nila ako masasamahan sa isa pang championship, samahan na lang nila ako i-enjoy ang volleyball one last time.”