Despite passing its first test, Cha Cruz says AirAsia must improve
MANILA, Philippines – Coming into the All-Filipino Conference of the 2014 Philippine SuperLiga season, expectations for the women’s division’s new team, the AirAsia Flying Spikers, were through the roof.
Composed of an ensemble of former DLSU Lady Spikers, the Ramil De Jesus-coached squad was arguably the most anticipated franchise in the tournament. Not only did the team have some popular mainstays that had just recently been in the UAAP – Abigail Marano, Wensh Tiu, Melissa Gohing, and Mika Esperanza – it also had some notable players from the yesteryears of college volleyball like Stephanie Mercado, Mic-Mic Laborte, and of course, Cha Cruz.
Before the popularity of volleyball took a rise in the Philippines, Cruz was taking the sport by storm while donning the green-and-white colors of De La Salle. In her collegiate career, the Bulacan native won four out of five championships, earning the right to at least start the conversation of whether or not DLSU should retire another jersey alongside the four that are already hanged at the Green Archers Gym.
However, though Cruz has only been a little over a year removed from the game – in which she has been working as a teacher at International School Manila – some of the recently anointed volleyball fans in the country know her only for being one of the best athletes in La Salle history, but not for the brilliance she never failed to exhibit on the court.
Nevertheless, in AirAsia’s three-set victory over Cagayan Province last Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome, 26-24, 25-19, 27-25, which helped them improve to 1-0, onlookers and pundits got a bird’s eye view of Cruz’s talents despite her extended sabbatical from the game.
It was Mercado who spearheaded the scoring department with 14 points, but Cha wasn’t far behind, submitting 10 markers to go with a couple defensive stops that helped shut down a Cagayan team filled with offensive weapons. Furthermore, Cruz did a spectacular job in Game one of being AirAsia’s team captain – a duty she isn’t unfamiliar with – helping her club get their act together despite a slow start and early deficit.
“Kasi, wala kaming pagaaralan na previous games nila (Cagayan Province). So, yung first set, yun ung sobrang nag-adjust kami para maka sustain sa second and third sets,” explained Cruz following her team’s triumph.
(See, we didn’t have game tape of Cagayan Province’s previous games. So in the first set, that’s when we really adjusted so that we could sustain our performance in the second and third sets)
A Familiar Assignment
Like I previously mentioned, Cruz is no stranger to being the girl everyone looks at when things aren’t going pleasantly. She was a team captain for Coach De Jesus for years at DLSU, and needless to say, she didn’t fail at her mandate. Moreover, she did such a great job, the nine-time champion coach picked her out of the rest of the team to be the Captain Ball once again, albeit in a different level of competition.
“Mas challenging for me yung maging team captain sa college. Kasi parang ikaw lang yung senior, then ikaw yung inaasahan,” mentioned Cruz, who averaged 12.3 PPG in her final go with the Lady Spikers in 2013. “Whereas yung team ngayon, kasi mga teammates ko, naging team captains.”
(It was more challenging being a team captain in college, because I was the only senior and I was the one people were relying on. In our team now [AirAsia], my teammates, they’ve also experienced being team captains)
However, outside of her responsibilities of being the Flying Spikers’ captain, Cruz also has a list of things to accomplish related to herself. Naturally, the two-time Finals MVP needs to worry about her work-related objectives. But she also has to concentrate on her conditioning in order to keep up with the competition the Philippine SuperLiga has to offer, she says.
“Siguro nasa 50 percent, so I’m glad mahaba yung tournament, so I have time pa to get back,” answered Cruz when asked to comment on her current physical shape.
(I’m at 50 percent, so I’m glad the tournament is long, so I have time to get my conditioning up)
She added: “The only challenge is going back to my old condition. Cause two years ako nag stop. Nag focus ako sa work and masters.”
(I stopped playing for two years. I focused on my work and masters)
Scanning the Competition
AirAsia won’t have a lot of time to bask in the glory of their maiden victory, as they have an even tougher obstacle coming up on Wednesday, May 21, when they take on the Cignal HD Spikers.
Cignal, captained by a former DLSU Lady Spiker and Coach Ramil protégée, Michelle Datuin, has made the PSL finals two straight times, coming up short to Generika Army (then known as TMS-Army) on both occasions. It goes without saying that the HD Spikers will be a tough challenge and a barometer for the new club in the league.
“Actually, tingin namin sa lahat nang team malakas eh,” noted Cruz. (Actually, we consider all teams strong)
Nonetheless, if Cruz and her companions find a way to escape the clutches of the HD Spikers, they will improve to 2-0 with an extended period of rest in the horizon.
“Siguro blessing in disguise yung two lang yung games namin this month. After the second game, we have three weeks to prepare para sa mas mga malakas na team,” she said.
(I think the fact that we have only two games this month is a blessing in disguise. After the second game, we have three weeks to prepare for the stronger teams)
And in those three weeks, AirAsia’s fans can expect the club to improve their chemistry on the court while getting in top shave individually.
“Pretty much alam nila paano gumalaw; konting sabi lang alam na,” stated Cruz when asked of the current progress of her club. (They already know how to move. You don’t need to tell them much)
“So siguro more on gel nalang and conditioning.” (So it’s just more on gelling and conditioning)
Possible return of a certain housemate
When AirAsia’s line-up following the SuperLiga draft was revealed, many volleyball analysts expected them to have a stingy defense, considering the team would have the services of Marano and Michele Gumabao. However, the latter chose to accept an invitation to be on this year’s ‘Pinoy Big Brother’ special, leaving her no choice but to skip the PSL – at least until she gets evicted from the show.
Flying Spikers head coach Ramil De Jesus has joked with the media on separate occasions, saying that while he wants what’s best for Gumabao, he wouldn’t mind seeing her get eliminated early so that she could suit up for his team.
Cruz, meanwhile, shares the same sentiments of her coach: “May ibang plans rin kasi siya eh. Ayaw ko maging selfish na agawin kay Michele, kasi alam ko dream niya rin yun. Pero, kung babalik siya, that’s another blessing.”
(She has separate plans also. I don’t want to be selfish and take that away from Michele, because I know that’s her dream as well. But, if she returns, that’s another blessing)
However, the team captain also weighed the positives and negatives of Gumabao’s potential return to the volleyball scene.
“Pero, pag balik niya hindi rin siya in good shape kasi kailangan niya rin sumabay sa condition, which is another adjustment. So, there are pros and cons.”
(But, when she returns she won’t be in good shape because she also needs to keep up with conditioning)