It's now or never for Gretchen Ho
MANILA, Philippines -- Gretchen Ho may not be the best player in the UAAP. She might not even be the best spiker in a title-contending Ateneo Lady Eagles crew she is leading.
However, in five years in Katipunan, Ho has emerged as one of the most popular volleybelles in the country, combining her stunning looks with the trademark hustle that has typified her game ever since.
Despite this, Ho remains grounded and still seems to be in disbelief that tens of thousands of people --- mostly teenagers --- have come to idolize this five-foot-seven Filipino-Chinese.
"Hindi ko nararamdaman," a smiling Ho shared in an interview with Rappler a week before they plunged into the Final Four. "Feeling ko ordinary lang ako."
Ho said that she tries to accommodate everyone who wants to have a picture taken with her, quashing any belief that she is too much of a "superstar" to be reached.
"Kapag nilapitan mo ako, kakausapin talaga kita," Ho shared, noting that she feels honored with all the attention she's getting.
The Management Engineering student has been so affable that someone she's been talking to -- as a fan -- freaked her out during Valentine's Day last year.
Ho shared that she was staying at the dorm inside the Ateneo campus that time when her coach told him that a guy was looking for her.
"Ayoko talaga lumabas!" she recalled, with the freaky moment still fresh in her mind. "Pero sumilip ako. Tapos nandoon siya. Nakakatakot!"
Seeing Ho peer through the window, the guy screamed "Gretchen Ho! I love you!"
She said that before that, Ho was, like with all fans trying to talk to her, in friendly terms with the guy, but she began to get creeped out when he started sending her messages that he wanted to court her and that he's in love with Ho.
"Minsan nasa dorm din ako, I was wearing my pajamas tapos mag-toothbrush na ako then nandoon na naman siya," a laughing Ho shared. "I can see him sa labas ng rehas. Sabi niya, good night!"
Power to inspire
That freaky incident aside, Ho said she enjoys what she's doing and loves the power to impact lives that comes with it, remembering a scene during their last elimination round game against University of Santo Tomas, when a kid shouted at her, telling her that she is an inspiration.
Episodes like that make Ho's heart go giddy and gives her unexplainable joy that, perhaps, no championship or individual award can equal.
"Nakakatuwa kase by just doing what I love, nakaka-inspire din pala ako ng mga tao," she said. "Nai-inspire din ako at the same time."
Gretchen Ho, the basketball player?
But the Gretchen Ho we know today began, like most stories of success, with just a dream. That dream, however, was not to be a volleyball superstar.
"Basketball talaga ang first sport ko," she said, talking about how her father was an accomplished cager who bagged numerous awards but didn't pursue a professional career.
"Dinadala ako ng dad ko sa mga PBA games," Ho added. "Red Bull ang team namin."
Her dream of becoming a hoops star, though, was cut short, when Immaculate Conception Academy --- where she attended high school --- did not have a women's basketball team. Because of this, she decided to give volleyball a shot.
'Kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw may dahilan'
Not long after, Ho emerged as a bankable spiker for ICA coach Vilet Ponce de Leon, who became and remains one of the biggest influences in the 22-year-old's life.
"Lahat ng bagay natutunan ko sa kanya," Ho said of her high school mentor. She then went on to utter some of the things she learned from de Leon, who now serves as an assistant coach for UST.
"Commitment, dedication, discipline."
"Kapag maglalaro ka, maglalaro ka."
"Kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw may dahilan."
That commitment to go all out, all heart in every game has been the hallmark of Ho's game since, and that is why she is determined to finally end Ateneo's long championship drought this season.
'Uunahan na kita'
"Gusto ko talaga mag-champion," Ho said firmly. "Gusto kong ilaban namin 'to kasi last year na namin."
The wounds of their failed Season 74 run to the finals are still fresh in the middle blocker's mind and back-to-back losses to archrival La Salle this year have only fueled her desire to exact vengeance on the spikers from Taft.
"Nandun na kami last year e," she added. "Mag-champion talaga ang gusto namin."
And while the odds are against them (statistically, at least), Ho believes that they have a great chance of upending the Lady Spikers and when the going gets tough, there would be no backing down.
"Uunahan na kita."
Now or never
Whether this campaign ends with a championship parade down Katipunan Avenue remains to be seen, but Gretchen Ho is very thankful for all the support they've been getting from fans all over the country.
"Thank you," she said. "Hindi ko pa rin alam kung bakit ang daming sumusuporta sa akin. I am wowed."
For now, though, she only wants one thing: to bring the trophy to Loyola Heights for the first time and hand Ateneo its first-ever UAAP women's volleyball championship.
"Don't be afraid to dream," she said during the interview. "Doon lahat nagsisimula."
With Ho manning the fort, the Lady Eagles are dreaming of a title run, a crown that would validate all the attention Ateneo --- arguably the most popular in the Philippines now --- has been receiving and surely reward all the hard work they have put in this bid.
It won't be easy. The tall blockers in Green and White are waiting at the net, hungry for a chance to swat the Lady Eagles' shots away. This will be the survival of the fittest, their last chance to leave a legacy of success, the last stand for the Fab Five.
Ho put it perfectly, "It's now or never."
The world awaits. - Rappler.com