Gretchen Ho: A star in more ways than one

Naveen Ganglani
Gretchen Ho: A star in more ways than one
From volleyball player to TV host to entrepreneur, Gretchen Ho continues to chase her dreams. Naveen Ganglani chronicles her journey from basketball hopeful to Ateneo volleyball queen

MANILA, Philippines – Many people know Gretchen Ho, but not all for the same reason.

If you’re a volleyball fan, you may have looked up to Ho for her years at Ateneo showcasing her skills on the court. TV buffs are accustomed to seeing her talents on-air at ABS-CBN hosting a variety of specials and shows. Others have grown to admire her for dedication to different philanthropic causes.

Her friends, meanwhile, know her as the girl who has remained meek despite her growing popularity. Her coaches praise her leadership, citing how she rarely forgets to motivate her teammates on the playing field or educating them on how to act in front of the media and public off of it.

Ho is a multi-talented personality who has endured many hardships to reach her goals.

She has many critics, but her success wasn’t handed to her on a silver platter. Hard work and perseverance have been her mantras for success. And presently, it’s paid off. 

But how did she get to the place she’s in right now? What were the challenges that threatened to unravel everything she worked hard for? How does she rise above her obstacles, handle success in the right manner, and stay on the right path towards everything else she wants to attain?

The answers to these questions, along with the tale of her life, and many more, have now been revealed.

Her First Love

Born to an athletic father and growing up with three sports-oriented brothers, it was inevitable that Gretchen would also follow a similar route.

However, what not many know about the Ateneo product is that her early days were devoted to a sport that didn’t involve spiking a ball.

“Basketball talaga yung first love ko. (Basketball was really my first love.) That was my real sport,” the 24-year-old Ho from Manila recently told Rappler.

She also mentioned that her father, an MVP for Grace Christian High School, served as an inspiration for the young Gretchen, who also idolized former Ateneo Blue Eagle and PBA veteran Olsen Racela.

“My dad always went to PBA games so we’d watch almost all Red Bull games kasi we were a distributor of Red Bull before and I got to love the sport. I got to watch a lot of players,” noted Ho, who said that she started playing basketball consistently around “early grade school.”

Ho was a fan of the game and began playing around “early grade school.” She enjoyed every opportunity to watch pros go head-to-head in front of thousands at packed arenas. 

But she was a keen observer as well. According to the ABS-CBN TV host, not only would she scream along with the audience, but she would also study the plays of certain teams.

“I would even mimic assistant coaches and then di ba they would make stats? Tapos parang tinitignan nila kung saan nakaka-shoot yung players nila ganyan and tapos in-observe ko,” recalled Gretchen. 

(They – assistant coaches – would look at where their players would shoot most of the time and I would observe it.)

But it wouldn’t stop there: “Tapos the next time I went to the games, I brought a one-fourth pad and I did my own stats. Tapos sinasabi ko, ‘Daddy, tignan mo!’ After that, may post-game analysis ako. Sinasabi ko, ‘Daddy, tignan mo ito, itong player na to, ba’t ba shoot nang shoot dito lagi siyang nagmi-miss. Tapos dapat dito siya mag drive, ganyan.’ So I was analyzing the game.”

(I would tell my dad, “Daddy, look!” After that, I would have my post-game analysis. I used to say, “Daddy, look at this, this player, why does he keep shooting from that spot even if he keeps missing? He’s supposed to drive, this and that.”)

Despite showing a knack for spotting trends and certain behaviors on the court, her dream wasn’t to be be the next Phil Jackson or Jong Uichico. Instead, she wanted to be like her idols that were playing on the court. 

“My dream job as a child was to become a professional basketball player. So sabi ko, ‘Daddy, gusto ko maging NBA player. Paano kaya magiging possible yun?’” (I told my dad, “Daddy, I want to be an NBA player. How would that be possible?”)

Ho’s father, in return, humored his ambitious daughter with a laugh, fully aware that such a scenario would not be plausible. 

But the young Gretchen, still unaware of how the world truly worked, didn’t care about technicalities and what were prohibited. By falling in love with basketball, she had spent countless hours on the court, looking to improve her game. That served as the genesis of her competitive spirit, which guided her in the years that would follow.

“Try ko nga ano ba ‘tong volleyball na ‘to.”

Years later, Ho realized that she had been granted athletic prowess that not many kids her had. The problem was, her school, Immaculate Conception Academy in Manila, had no varsity basketball team.

“There was no basketball team in our school. There was only the volleyball team. So I tried it out. There was a clinic and sabi ko ‘Try ko nga ano ba ‘tong volleyball na ‘to.’ Di ko alam. Wala talaga akong idea nung volleyball,” shared Gretchen, recalling how clueless she was at that time about the sport that would make her a mainstay in Philippine athletics.

(I said, “Let my try volleyball.” I had no idea at all about volleyball at that time.)

At that time, ICA’s girls’ volleyball squad was dominating its competition, which attracted the hopeful Ho try out for the club. In her fifth year of grade school, she was able to make the team thanks to her athletic prowess, granting her the right to be called a “student-athlete.”

However, her triumph would be short-lived.

“I joined the varsity team for like six months but I had to quit because my mom didn’t want me staying in school until 7:30,” said Ho, who was curtly told by her coach that if she couldn’t stay in school until late hours, it would be unfair to her teammates.

“You better just go,” Gretchen recalled her coach’s words.

And so she did, thanks to the lack of support from her mother. But nonetheless, Ho had grown accustomed to the rules of volleyball, which kept her inspired to continue practicing for the next year and a half.

Simultaneously she was waiting for the perfect moment to request her mom to let her join the team again. 

And she did, doing so by working the calendar perfectly.

“In April, summer before grade seven, I took the chance on my birthday. So birthday ko (my birthday), April 19, sabi ko (I said) “Mommy, pahingi akong gift.” (Mommy, can I have a gift?)

It was a huge moment in Gretchen’s young life, though at that time, she didn’t know it yet.

Imagine for a second what would have been had Ho’s mom said “No” to her child. Or what if Gretchen asked permission on any of the other 364 days in the year? There might be no Ateneo volleyball jerseys with the name “Ho” behind it. No Fab Five that earned the love of many. No multiple TV shows with a charismatic host.

But luckily enough, her mother approved, albeit with a certain requirement.

“Sabi niya, ‘Sige papayagan kita, basta wala kang grade below 80.’”

(She said, “Okay, I’ll allow you, as long as you don’t have a grade below 80.”)

And the young soon-to-be-star made sure of it.

Respect From a Former Adversary

Gretchen Ho and Abigail Maraño are no strangers to each other. While one was making waves in Katipunan, the other was becoming a star in Taft. And with both of their teams in the league better than the rest of their contemporaries, it didn’t take long before they would meet in the finals.

(RELATED: Aby Marano: The tale of a champion)

Their first of two championship battles took place in 2012, Season 74, with La Salle winning in three games. The following year, both squads would joust again, but the Lady Eagles were not able to exact revenge and were swept by their rivals.

Maraño went 2-0 against Ho in the finals. But when asked about her opinion on the Ateneo star, triumphing in ’12 and ’13 was not the first thing that came to the two-time UAAP MVP’s mind.

“For my side, mabait talaga si Gretchen Ho,” (Gretchen Ho is really kind.) Maraño complimented in an exclusive conversation with Rappler. “And she’s very down to earth also.”

Aby’s opinion of Gretchen was carved when both of them still played in the collegiate ranks. According to her, she was pleasantly surprised by the humility and generosity of the ICA High School standout.

“Kasi, we fought against them many times in the UAAP,” Maraño began her story. “And sobrang sarap nang feeling na, after the game, sinasabi niya saakin na ako yung isa sa mga iniidola niya sa volleyball.”

(It was such a good feeling that, after each game, she [Ho] would tell me that I’m one of those she idolizes in volleyball.)

Both players are currently participating in the Philippine SuperLiga All-Filipino Conference, where the Petron Blaze Spikers and Air Asia Flying Spikers, Ho and Maraño’s teams, respectively, are in the better half of the league standings. Another matchup in the final dance between both players is highly possible. Whatever the outcome would be, the DLSU graduate will always admire her Ateneo alumnus counterpart.

“Makikita mo yung kahit sobrang sikat siya na tao, sobrang madami kilala sakanya, pero magsasabi siya na ganoon, ang sarap din sa feeling,” Maraño added. “Nakikita ko yung pagiging humble niya through that.”

(It’s such a great feeling that despite how popular she is, she still goes out of her way to say some kind words. It’s clear how humble she is.)

But make no mistake about it, Maraño is aware of how competitive Ho is, having witnessed it first hand during their epic encounters in the past. So much so that when asked to describe Gretchen in one word, Aby replied by stating: “She’s a fighter.”

And So It Begins

Ho got past the hurdle of convincing her mom to let her join the varsity team. Up next on her plate was taking care of business on the court and earning the trust of her coach, Villet Ponce de Leon, both of whom were not easy tasks.

“Very strict,” Ho characterized her high school mentor, who would also coach her in SuperLiga years later. “Tinuro niya saamin na pag may training and game, prioritize namin yun. And hindi excuse pag, ‘I need to study’, no.”

(She taught us that whenever there would be training or a game, it should be prioritized. An excuse like, “I need to study” was not acceptable.)

But according to the volleyball star, the tough-love approach used by her coach was to yield positive results from her athletes, not to discourage them. 

“She taught us to become fighters inside the court. She wasn’t just the type that would teach you skills. She’s good in terms of motivation.”

Gretchen also knew that her athletic abilities weren’t going to be enough to sway her coach in her favor. She had to work hard and display pure dedication to the team.

She might not have known it yet, but with her relentless discipline towards improving her craft, she had built a foundation that she would need in the years to follow.

“’I will show her that I am worthy of her (Coach Ponce’s) trust,’” Ho remembered telling herself about her coach, whom she later described as: “Hindi siya masyadong ma-compliment na tao pero she will correct you and she will guide you.”

(She’s not a very complimentary person but she will correct and guide you.)

It worked. Ho’s first of many individual awards was won when she was in Grade 7, as she was named Best Setter. In the years that would follow, she would be a critical cog in Coach Ponce de Leon’s system, shifting between middle and open spiker. 

She started off as the first girl off the bench in her early days, and then rose to being co-captain in her junior year of high school. In her senior campaign, she was named the sole captain of ICA’s volleyball squad, earning the total respect and admiration of the coach who had taught her so many lessons, on and off the court, during her stay with the team that won multiple titles.

“I dedicated a song to her when I graduated – ‘You first believed’ by Hoku – kasi siya talaga yung nakakita ng potential sakin from the start.”

(She really was the one who saw potential in me from the start.)

Ho says that it was her high school coach who motivated her to believe in herself while educating the young Gretchen on the importance of honest hard work and perseverance. It was all the more significant considering her parents were more interested in what her report card showed rather than what she displayed in varsity games.

“Hindi talaga supportive parents ko. They just watched me. Strict sila and they were concerned about my studies. Pero nung sumali ako sa varsity, tumaas pa grades ko,” mentioned Gretchen, who also noted that there was a point where she would be the second best academic student of her batch. 

(My parents were not supportive. They were strict and more concerned about my studies. But when I joined varsity, my grades actually improved.)

But what was the reason for the sudden enhancement of her academic performance?

“I learned from my sport that you can start from nothing and become something by being open to learning and dedicating yourself to something. The fact that I had less time meant I needed to work on the time I had.”

Volleyball started off as something Ho tried for kicks. But it placed her on a ride that would make her fall in love with the sport, enable her to attain higher marks in school, and teach her values she would need to be successful.

And it would all play a role in the next phase of her life. Right at Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108.

From left: Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, Aillysse Nacachi, Aillysse Nacachi, Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer - Ateneo's Fab Five. Photo by Josh Albelda

The Fab Five

Gretchen Ho. Fille Cainglet. Aillysse Nacachi. Jem Ferrer. Dzi Gervacio.

You can’t mention these names in Ateneo without receiving a reference to the school’s “Fab Five.”

Five prospects who all came in Season 71 of the UAAP. Five rookies who were given more responsibilities than your average freshmen. Five athletes who created a storm in the Ateneo volleyball scene.

Five stars who would turn out to be the best of friends.

“I think it’s being with your teammates everyday,” Ho explained when asked what it was like to be part of such a faction. “Wala ka nang itatago sa teammates mo. Alam mo yung kahit di kami manalo, magkakasama pa rin kami.

(It was like having nothing to hide from your teammates. It was a feeling like even if we didn’t win, we would still be together.)

Ho and Nacachi each played middle spiker roles. Truth be told, they often faced disadvantages, forced to deal with opponents taller than them. But that didn’t stop the two from giving all-out effort all the time, which earned the respect of the team’s fans.

Cainglet led the team in scoring in the latter years of the Fab Five’s tenure. She also was a viable option in terms of defense and was the heart and soul of the team.

Ferrer was a three-time Best Setter in the UAAP. She also had such high volleyball IQ that some have penned her as the best Ateneo volleyball player until the arrival of Alyssa Valdez. 

And who could forget Gervacio, arguably the most emotional leader of the bunch and just an all-around talent.

The Fab Five was like a family. But like most families, they also had their disagreements and petty fights. 

“Kaming lima, kasi, strong personalities kami kaya lagi kaming nag-aaway,” she said. 

(Us five, we have strong personalities, which was why we would always fight.)

But most moments were filled with laughter. Some of which Ho was kind enough to share.

“Ako, pinagtatawanan nila damit ko kasi mga sinusuot ko laspag na,” Ho started her tale. (They would laugh at my clothes because what I used to wear was worn out.)

“Si A (Nacachi) naman, minsan parang wala na sa sarili niya. Si Dzi (Gervacio) naman, tawag namin sa kanya bakulaw kasi halimaw siya – ang lakas niya diba.

(With A, it seemed like she would always be out of it. With Dzi, we used to call her “bakulaw” because she’s really strong.)

Ho laughed as she recalled memories of her group’s past endeavors. But she wasn’t done.

“Si Jem, mahilig sa C2 kaya minsan tumataba siya. Sobrang lakas njya sa iced tea. Si Fille naman, makulit. Touchy. Lahat kami hina-hug niya,” she said.

(With Jem, she likes drinking C2 and iced tea, which was why she would get fat. On the other hand, with Fille, she was playful. Touchy. She would always hug us.)

But she wasn’t done with Cainglet, as Gretchen shared one more experience.

“Humawak siya ng ipis (she held a cockroach),” Ho remembered, before saying that Fille tried throwing it at her teammates.

The Fab Five were bonded together because of the pressure on them to help deliver Ateneo a title. They might not have been able to do so, but calling their time together unsuccessful would be a mistake. They always delivered on the court, and were a favorite with the media and public.

“Ewan ko bakit sila tinawag na Fab Five (I don’t know why they were called Fab Five),” joked Coach Roger Gorayeb when Rappler reached out to him for an interview.

Gorayeb’s tour of duty with the Lady Eagles lasted five years – the same period the Fab Five played for Ateneo.

“Sakanilang lima, pati nung pag pasok ko sa Ateneo, sabay-sabay kami. Sakanila na focus dahil parang tailor-made sakanila yan dahil yung Ateneo, nung pag pasok ko, walang player talaga. Walang transition eh.”

(The five of them and I entered Ateneo together. The focus was on them because Ateneo was tailor-made for them. When I entered Ateneo, there was no standout player. There was no transition.)

According to Gorayeb, the timing was perfect. With no system or star in the Lady Eagles roster, the coast was clear for Ho and her friends to take over the team.

“Napakaswerte nung batch nila dahil yung batch nila, sakanila na focus yung pag mold nung team sa Ateneo,” according to the head coach who now mentors PLDT in the Philippine SuperLiga.

(Their batch is very lucky because the molding of Ateneo’s volleyball team was focused on them.)

Ho is the first to point out that the Fab Five wasn’t perfect, stating that “Honestly hindi naman sobrang smooth journey namin.”

(Honestly, the Fab Five’s journey wasn’t smooth.)

But that didn’t stop them from building a friendship that they would all cherish.

“Sila yung naging parang family ko for the longest time (they were like my family for the longest time),” Ho mentioned, nostalgia kicking in. “Ma-rerealize mo na namimiss mo sila.” (You realize that you miss them.)

Hello, Ateneo

Unlike her teammate in ICA, Kara Acevedo, Ho didn’t receive an athletic scholarship to Ateneo despite showing potential with the RP-Youth squad. But she did pass the university’s entrance exam, granting her the chance to major in Management Engineering. 

Ateneo’s volleyball program knew of Gretchen’s talents, so they asked her to train with the club. She accepted and was able to improve the coaching staff enough that they offered her a spot on the team. Most girls in her position would have beamed at the opportunity, but Ho was conflicted.

“It wasn’t my intention to try-out. Naki-training lang talaga ako. Gusto ko lang i-try and i-pakita skills ko, ganun.”

(It wasn’t my intention to try-out. I just wanted to show my skills.)

Eventually, Gretchen decided to join the squad despite the challenges that came with it.

“ME (her degree) is really hard. It’s not a joke. I had a lot of sleepless nights.”

But her team’s success on the court made up for it. Ateneo finished with a 6-8 record in 2009, which wasn’t good enough to make the Final Four. But considering five rookies and a new head coach led the team, many looked at it as a stepping stone rather than a failure.

“Our first year was a very good year for us. We showed so much promise. We were fifth place, but we battled the top four teams (DLSU, FEU, UST, Adamson) to five-setters,” said Ho, who added that Ateneo was “gutom” (hungry) to prove they belonged with the big guns.

Gretchen’s ability to hold the fort despite her disadvantages at middle spiker was key to the team’s early success. But it was also her qualities as a leader that kept the team’s morale high during troublesome moments.

“Gretchen has a never-say-die attitude. Her leadership was very evident during crucial moments inside the court,” according to Charo Soriano, who served as Ho’s assistant coach in Ateneo.

Soriano, who gave insight into Ho’s time at Ateneo during an exclusive conversation with Rappler, also noted “As an innate positive person, she (Gretchen) was a very effective motivator. Moreover, she does not only motivate but also gives constructive advice to her teammates.”

Expectations Are Rising

After an impressive maiden campaign, expectations soared in the team’s second year together.

But so did the Lady Eagles.

“We got third place nung second year namin,” said Ho, whose Ateneo team finished with a 10-4 win-loss clip, although her individual performance took a hit. After an impactful first half to the season, Ho’s off-court responsibilities took a toll on her performance in the second half, which carried on to the Final Four round where UST swept Ateneo.

Ho’s struggles continued into her third season, she says. Her studies were beginning to harden, she had to deal with work for her course’s organization, she was running a business in Ateneo’s canteen (JSEC), and on top of it all, many were calling for the Lady Eagles to take the next step in their development by making the finals.

As good as Ho was when it came to managing her workload, even she couldn’t handle everything at that time.

“Third year, that was it. The hardest year of ME and I had a business and org work,” said Ho, who related that one of the workers in her store stole money from the registrar and was not apprehended.

Making things worse, Ateneo’s record dipped to 8-6 and her performance became lackluster. Though the Lady Eagles were able to get the last Final Four slot, they were quickly eliminated by La Salle in the first of many playoff battles between both teams in the upcoming years.

“Yun yung nagalit saamin si Coach Roger kasi di daw namin pina-prioritize yung volleyball,” recalled the TV host about her junior season. 

(That was when Coach Roger got mad because, according to him, we weren’t prioritizing volleyball.)

While all of these were happening, Ho also had to deal with a shoulder tear that hindered her performance physically and still bothers her until this day. She downplayed it, not revealing much info to the media then. But according to Soriano, it played a big role in Gretchen’s troubles on the court.

“Gretch has been suffering from several physical injuries, but the most focal one is her shoulder injury. It affected her performance because she literally couldn’t exert that much effort,” the former assistant coach explained. “Shoulder injuries are extremely painful. And the movements in volleyball involve a lot of the muscles in the shoulder.”

Gretchen’s third season ended in disappointment. But she looked at it as a learning experience and promised her coach that she would return a better player in her fourth year.

She did just that, and helped lead Ateneo to a feat it had yet to reach in the past.

Ho has had to deal with a nagging shoulder injury for years but has managed to stay healthy enough to compete. Photo by Josh Albelda

An Encouraging Influence

On May 21, the Petron Blaze Spikers made its Philippine SuperLiga All-Filipino Conference debut in good fashion. Guided by Din-Din Santiago’s record-breaking 37 points, Petron defeated PLDT in a five-set thriller after facing an early deficit.

It was an impressive showing from Santiago and company, but what made it more significant was that they managed to attain the win without Ho, who missed the matchup due to her nagging shoulder.

But just because she was limited to being a spectator on the bench, that didn’t stop the former Atenista from cheering on her teammates during every play, as she never failed to give out words of encouragement regardless of a rally’s outcome.

And they listened to her. Like she did so many times as a child during basketball games, Ho became an assistant coach during the game’s breaks.

“The team gives high respect to Gretchen. She shares an influence that encourages everyone to do well,” Petron head coach George Pascua tells Rappler.

“She helps me through motivating and inspiring her teammates to always do their best. She strengthens their dedication and commitment to the game.”

Like Soriano in Ateneo, Pascua praised Ho’s leadership. He also talked about how huge a part it plays in the Blaze Spikers’ season, as they currently lead the league standings with a 3-0 record.

“She is responsible, humble, and committed to the team’s goal and vision,” the mentor says of his team captain. “She bridges the gap among the members of the team.”

Petron has three games left in its schedule, most of which are against some of the tougher teams in the PSL. The club has championship aspirations, and while Ho’s injury may not get her 100% in time for the playoffs, her coach feels what she will contribute goes beyond the four-sided volleyball playing field.

“She bridges the gap through having an initiative to know the needs of her teammates and opening the line of communication between players and coaches,” according to Pascua.

“[Her] character and charisma lifts the energy and motivation of the team.”

Welcome To The Bright Lights, Lady Eagles

After a disappointing finish to the previous season, Ho sought out to do whatever it took to help her Lady Eagles climb to the top. But before taking care of business on the court, the first task was to hand out an apology to someone whom Gretchen felt deserved it.

“Nung fourth year, I apologized to Coach Roger,” she said, before mentioning that her exact words were, “I promise you that I will do my best this year.”

And she went on to fulfill that promise, but not before taking care of her second task.

According to Ho, she had dropped her business in Ateneo along with some of her organization work, lessening the burden on her shoulders. It wasn’t an easy decision, as Gretchen was forced to admit that she couldn’t handle everything all at once.

“Tinanggal ko yung extra curricular ko. It was very humbling kasi I realized na I can’t do anything that I want to do, and if I want to do well in something, I have to put in time.”

(I dropped my extra curricular work. It was humbling because I realized that I couldn’t do anything I want to do all at once, and if I want to do well in something, I have to put in the time.)

So she dedicated herself to the one thing that had been common in her life for years. And it paid dividends on the court.

“Fourth year, I started improving a lot,” according to Ho, who believed her senior year would be her last in Katipunan. “I became more mature. Inisip ko last year ko na (I thought it would already be my last year), so I want to be ready if it will be my last year.”

Ateneo stormed off to an 11-3 record in 2012, earning them the No. 2 seed behind La Salle and its 14-0 record. The rest of the Fab Five, the entire team, and Ho were all playing great. But the latter’s re-found focus to the game wasn’t the only factor that elevated her team’s performance.

“Pressure of performing on the court, expectations from other humans, and from myself,” Gretchen stated as she reflected back on what caused her forgettable third year. She mentioned after that “learning to deal with all of it” propelled her in years four and five of her college career and has guided her until today.

 “I just didn’t care anymore. ‘Bahala kayo kung anong sabihin niyo,’” she remembered her battle cry.

(You guys say whatever you want to. I don’t care.)

“Whenever I’d enter the court, parang nag-close off ako (it was like I would close off).”

Apparently, Ho had found the secret. Weeks later, her team looked dominant in its Final Four duel against UST, winning 3-1 and delivering Ateneo its first seniors’ volleyball playoff win in years. Furthermore, it gave the Lady Eagles its first crack at the finals in school history.

And the most intriguing part? They booked a date with their archrivals from Taft.

“When we reached the finals, we were very happy,” noted Gretchen, who added that the team’s head coach gave a warning following the victory against UST.  “Sabi niya, ‘o, di pa tapos (He said, “It’s not over yet.”)’”

But still, the young girls couldn’t contain their excitement over having accomplished what many before them couldn’t.

 “Feeling namin na-achieve na namin yung goal namin, which is makapasok sa finals.”

(We felt we were able to achieve their goal of making it to the finals.)

The Lady Eagles were faced with a daunting task of taking on a Lady Spikers team which had yet to lose that season. La Salle had league MVP Aby Maraño, Best Server and Rookie of the Year winner Ara Galang, and Best Blocker Michele Gumabao, leading the charge from the opponents’ side.

But none of that mattered in Game 1, as Ho and company prevailed over their adversaries in four sets.

“’Nanalo kami, totoo ba to?’” Gretchen remembered asking herself following the win. 

But while she was wondering how they took down a club that seemed invincible, one of her mentors was not surprised at all.

“Gretchen was the heart (of the team). She plays with so much passion that it’s impossible to not be affected by her positive attitude. She was one of those players that will never surrender, up to the last point,” according to Soriano.

Her praise didn’t stop there: “Her drive to always be better made her into a very competent opponent and a very reliable teammate.”

However, Ateneo’s enthusiasm was short-lived, and Ho perfectly summed up what happened next in two words.

“We choked.”

DLSU returned with a vengeance in Game 2, winning three straight sets after dropping the first quarter. In Game 3, La Salle got down to business early and didn’t look back, sweeping the Lady Eagles to obtain the championship.

“We didn’t know how to handle the pressure and I think we were lacking confidence,” says Ho, trying to figure out what happened two years ago. “Mas experienced sila (they were just more experienced.)”

But Ateneo’s defeat wasn’t in vain. They, too, earned some experience of their own which they felt would guide them in the following season. 

“We were happy that we were there, we were happy that we had the experience.”

“We’re not happy that we gave it away easily,” she added.

But nevertheless: “’We showed so much promise and next year we’re going to get it,’ Ganun yung mindset namin. (That was our mindset.)”

Close, But No Cigar

Inspired by how far her team had come the previous season, Ho opted to return for her last year of eligibility. 

“I decided to extend because, as a player, I felt my game was improving. Tsaka (Also) Coach Roger asked me to stay for one year.”

And that wasn’t all.

“I was on a mission.”

The entire Lady Eagles squad was. With their young star-in-the-making, Alyssa Valdez, improving to a point where she led the UAAP in scoring, Ateneo felt they had what it took to overthrow La Salle. The team also did not lack in motivation.

They finished with the second seed again, and then easily overpowered Adamson in the Final Four round. In the Finals, a rematch from Season 74’s encounter took place.

But Ateneo wouldn’t get the ending they were hoping for.

With Gumabao leading the way, La Salle swept their opponents to win their third straight title.

“Maraming factors eh (there were a lot of factors),” said Ho as she tried to pick up the pieces of what happened. “Kulang kami sa confidence. We dwindled at nagkanya-kanya kami.”

(We lacked confidence. We dwindled and became selfish.)

And just like that, it was over. Ho’s UAAP volleyball career. The Fab Five’s reign. And unfortunately, Coach Gorayeb’s tenure as the team’s head coach as well, though Gretchen says she doesn’t put the fault of losing on him.

“We owe a lot to Coach Roger and we’re not blaming him. I think he trained us well,” according to her.

But in spite of all that, the ride had come to an end.

Ho (far right) passed the torch to Alyssa Valdez (far left), who led Ateneo to their first UAAP volleyball title in Season 76. Photo by Josh Albelda

Heartstrong

In Season 76, a year following Ho’s departure, Valdez and the Lady Eagles finally got over the La Salle hump, winning the coveted UAAP crown the team had been targeting for years prior. 

Some say that while Ho is happy at her protégés’ success, she must be disappointed over barely missing out on a title.

However, she promises that is not the case.

“They won because they had a change in attitude, a change in mentality. Coach Tai (Bundit) brought that happy, heartstrong attitude”

She also says that the 2014 Lady Eagles had something her team forgot to exhibit the year before.

“Kami, we forgot to enjoy the game. We forgot to play passionately. Nung naglalaro kami, sobramg pagod na kami, wala ka nang malabas. Sa kanila ngayon, walang pressure.”

(We forgot to enjoy the game and play passionately. When we were playing, we were always tired and we had nothing to show. With them, they played without pressure.)

But that doesn’t take away from how happy Ho and the rest of the Fab Five are for the new UAAP volleyball champions, as she said that, “They were able to do the things we didn’t. We’re happy because they were able to learn from our mistakes.”

As a matter of fact, Ho believes what she and her girls accomplished the past few years also played a role in Ateneo’s championship.

“Kami nag-start nun e,” according to her. “Di mangyayari yun nang overnight. Hindi napunta saamin yung championship, pero part kami nun e. We built that team and we are a part of that champion team.”

(We started it. It didn’t materialize overnight. We didn’t win a championship, but we were part of it – Ateneo’s 2014 title.)

And Ateneo’s victory over La Salle?

“Redemption yun for us.” (For us, it felt like redemption.)

What The Future Has In Store

Outside of playing in the SuperLiga, Ho spends most of her time hosting ABS-CBN’s nightly sports show, ‘The Score’. But that’s not all she’s up to nowadays. She also runs her own business, does hosting gigs, and spends a lot of time working her injured shoulder back to shape.

“In a few years, I want to have six pack abs,” she first joked when asked what the future holds.

“I want to be a good host. Kasi (because) I like the sports news field. I want to be like a gitna (an in-between) of Dyan Castillejo and Bianca Gonzalez.”

Ho, who also spends her time promoting an advocacy centered on inspiration along with Soriano and her mother, hopes to accomplish a lot over the next few years. And those close to her believe she has what it takes to do it.

“Lagi naman humble yung bata na yan eh,” Coach Gorayeb says about Ho. “Never naging mayabang yan. Para saakin, enjoyin niya yung career niya ngayon. Kasi napakatalinong bata ni Gretchen. Kahit saan na trabaho, tatangapin yan.”

(Gretchen is always humble; she’s never been arrogant. For me, she should enjoy her career now. She’s very intelligent, so whatever job she wants, she’ll be accepted.)

Soriano, meanwhile, believes that despite time constraints, Ho will be able to manage her duties like she has for so many years now.

“We talk about it sometimes – time management. I believe it has a lot to do with discipline. When you set a goal, you see through the tasks. When you set a schedule, you stick with it. It’s all about management, which she has a very solid grasp on.”

Soriano, who currently plays for PLDT in the PSL under Gorayeb, also added some terms to describe her former student, current business partner, and most of all, friend.

“She is one-of-a-kind. A true gem. An amazing person. An inspirational icon.”

And not to forget: “we both love chili,” she laughingly mentioned. 

“In a few years, Gretchen Ho will be remembered for being different,” Ho said towards the end of our interview, as she leaned back and tried to imagine what many might write or say about her in the distant future. 

“I want to be different that I want to show people that there is something good in the (show business) industry,” she elaborated. “There is something good – it’s not just about showing beauty, it’s not just about showing what you have, or fame.”

“I want to show that there’s no limit to your dreams as long as you direct to a goal –to the right path.”

Ho wants to accomplish a lot in the next few years. And if what those close to the star have mentioned about her character isn’t enough to convince those in doubt, then the unrelenting determination and perseverance she has displayed over the past year should be enough to prove otherwise.

It would be safe to assume that she most likely will reach all her goals and dreams, regardless of how high they may be.

Naveen Ganglani is a sports journalist for Rappler.com who has covered leagues both international and in the Philippines. He also watches way too many movies and TV shows and plays video games way too often. Follow him on Twitter: @naveenganglani

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.