by Kristel Satumbaga
The year 2016 affirmed volleyball as the second most popular sport in the country.
Fans filled venues, especially when games featured the country’s popular players, some of whom rivaled the popularity of top PBA players.
Whether they’re college games or professional tournaments, the crowd was always there although many preferred women’s tournaments than men’s despite the fact that men’s events arguably were more tightly fought and more entertaining.
But credit stars such as Alyssa Valdez for helping fill the stadiums and giving volleyball a strong following.
For instance, when Valdez starred for Ateneo in a battle against La Salle for the UAAP championship, the crowd rivaled that of the two schools’ encounters in men’s basketball, sometimes even surpassing them.
The team rivalry ended after the college encounters, as most Ateneo players opted to compete in the V-League, a tournament developed, nurtured and supported by Shakey’s.
It can be argued that if not for Shakey’s, volleyball would not be where it is right now.
It was not long before Shakey’s got a competition as a new league that carries the name Superliga came into being four years ago to get a slice of the huge volleyball market.
To this league, La Salle threw its support, sending its alumni and college stars to compete, thus basically killing what would have been a lucrative and entertaining rivalry with Ateneo in the V-League.
It seemed all right at first as this rivalry between two competing leagues would raise the banner of Philippine volleyball in international competitions by improving the quality of its players.
That, however, was not the case. Philippine volleyball was never a factor in Southeast Asia, more so in Asian volleyball.
Yet, more and more players are being lured to volleyball and more and more people are being drawn to games like steel filings to magnet.
But to improve the sport and make it internationally competitive, some observers want the two leagues to rationalize their schedule because as things are right now, sometimes two tournaments are held at the same time, dividing the loyalties of fans to the detriment of total improvement.
In fact, it may be fun to consider merging V-League and Superliga or make the two leagues hold invitational tournaments or an set up an All-Star series featuring their top players.
There is actually no need to kill each other. The pie is big but each league must sacrifice something otherwise they may kill the chicken that lays the golden eggs.
Meantime, this year saw the hiring of many American and European imports to beef up local teams in both Shakey’s and Superliga tournaments, a nod to what is practiced in the PBA where import-flavored tournaments are the norm.
This comes after the leagues hired Thailand stars to compete for local teams.
If these were not enough, Superliga held tournaments featuring foreign teams and a local squad.
The Asian Women’s Club Championship was held last September at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan, Laguna that saw Japan’s NEC Red Rockets claiming the gold medal. Local bet Foton Pilipinas placed seventh out of 12 teams.
Also held was the FIVB World Women’s Club Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena last October. Foton-PSL team, which represented the country, finished eighth and last.
Some of the clubs that played were Turkey’s Eczacibasi Vitra and Vakifbank Istanbul, Italy’s Pomi Casalmaggiore, Brazil’s Rexona-Sesc Rio, Switzerland’s Volero Zurich, Japan’s Hisamitsu Springs, and Thailand’s Bangkok Glass.
Some teams had players who competed in the Rio Olympic medalists such as Zhu Ting of China, Serbia’s Tijana Boskovic, and United States’ Jordan Larsson.
In women’s NCAA volleyball, the College of St. Benilde beat San Sebastian College for its first title since entering the league in 1998. University of Perpetual Help snared the men’s crown – its 11thoverall – foiling Emilio Aguinaldo College’s title-retention campaign.
In the UAAP, La Salle subdued Ateneo in the women’s finals, spoiling Alyssa Valdez’s final college game.
Ateneo, however, won the men’s division with a victory over National University.
V-League celebrated its 13th season with three conferences, with Pocari Sweat triumphing the Open and Reinforced Conferences, and NU reigning in the Collegiate Conference.
Spikers’ Turf, the men’s counterpart of V-League, saw Air Force (Open and Reinforced) and Ateneo (Collegiate) prevailing in its second season.
In the Superliga, the winners were RC Cola-Army (Invitational), F2 Logistics (All-Filipino), and Foton (Grand Prix).