MANILA, Philippines --- The fans have spoken.
Days after it was reported that the first Ateneo-La Salle volleyball game match of the season had better ratings than the Ateneo-UST Basketball championship, the UAAP moved quickly.
The second Ateneo-La Salle match has been officially moved from the 5,000-seater FilOil Flying V Arena to the 18,000-seater SM MOA Arena in Pasay.
The growth of volleyball has been simmering for a while. Actually, UAAP President Nilo Ocampo already scheduled to have the volleyball Final Four and championships moved to the bigger arena, but it looks like the growth is ahead of schedule.
A different ballgame
After the basketball season ends in the UAAP and the NCAA for the first semester, volleyball heats up the crowds. Unlike basketball, though, there are more non-UAAP/non-NCAA viewers among the fans. People who genuinely love the game, regardless of school affiliation, fans who've really made the sport grow as much as it has during the last few years.
Sure, support from the schools is great, and with social media fueling the rise of volleyball, it gets so much better. But it's the rabid fans, the ones who've been here for years, who really make the growth as fantastic as it is.
From the days of Charo Soriano, Sue Roces, and Rachel Daquis the fans have been there. During the era of Manila Santos, Venus Bernal, Louann Latigay, loyal fans came in droves to the San Juan Arena to watch the stars shine.
Ten years ago, Sports Vision teamed up with Shakey’s Pizza to develop the Shakey's V-League, and volleyball has been on the rise ever since.
Combining schools from both the UAAP and the NCAA, the league started to make waves early. New developments like getting "guest players" like alumnus to continue to play and even "imports" from Thailand bolstered the league's reputation as a growing league and a sport that was establishing itself in the hearts of sports fans.
Eventually, the league expanded to add teams from the south – University of St. La Salle of Bacolod and Southwestern University of Cebu to further expand the game of volleyball in the country.
Huge growth spurt
The past few years have been great for volleyball. The rise of basketball power Ateneo in the volleyball ranks was definitely a key cog in the growth. The recruitment of coach Roger Gorayeb from San Sebastian, where he won numerous titles in the NCAA, set the foundation for the school's volleyball program. And in the same year, the Lady Eagles got a much-needed boost when they landed the famous "Fab Five" of Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer, Gretchen Ho, and Aillysse Nacachi.
Of course with Ateneo's growth, there is the standard of excellence La Salle has maintained throughout the years.
They've won back-to-back championships, and are looking to score a three peat this year. Despite losing Cha Cruz to graduation, they still have a fantastic core of players that are threats anywhere on the court. Reigning MVP Abigail Marano, Mika Reyes, Wensh Tiu, and libero Liss Gohing take charge for Coach Ramil De Jesus' Lady Spikers.
Although the focus this year surrounds the high level of play of both Ateneo and La Salle, other schools have emerged and have increased the level of play throughout the country.
Perennial volleyball powerhouses UST and FEU continue to set a strong example, in both women's and men's volleyball. National University, with the influx of support from the Sy family, owners of SM Malls, is poised to go up in the rankings in the UAAP.
On the NCAA side, Perpetual Help, Arellano University, and San Sebastian continue to grow and have fun.
The growth of volleyball in the country has been a fantastic ride throughout the years. This weekend, a huge matchup, potentially a finals preview, will be on display and will show the country that volleyball has finally arrived in the Philippines.