Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Analysis: Ateneo’s Final Four win over FEU

Analysis: Ateneo’s Final Four win over FEU
by rick olivares

Remy Palma tried her best to be Jaja Santiago for her Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws. She stared down, scored, gave Ateneo fits, but at the end, it wasn’t enough. The Lady Eagles prevailed in four sets (25-22, 25-10, 16-25, 25-24) to take their final four match-up.

And for the sixth consecutive year, it’s going to be an Ateneo-La Salle finals for the UAAP Women’s volleyball crown.

Why couldn’t FEU get the job done?

If you look at how NU was able to defeat Ateneo, they got contributions from all sides of the court on offense – from the wings and from the middle. When you offer that kind of offense – as Ateneo does to its opponents – then the Lady Eagles or any team for the matter, will struggle defensively.

The Lady Bulldogs got double figures scoring sock from Jorelle Singh and Aiko Urdas with Santiago, Sato, and Nabor hammering them from the middle.

La Salle accomplished the same in last year’s finals with Kim Dy and Ara Galang firing from the wings and points coming from Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo, Kim Fajardo, and Majoy Baron in the middle. In contrast, Ateneo only got points from the open and utility position from Alyssa Valdez and Jhoana Maraguinot.

You might ask, didn’t La Salle offer the same this year – scoring from all sides? Sure, they did. But Ateneo answered them point for point and then some. It came down to defense and errors.

FEU can’t win with Palma and Bernadeth Pons the only scoring options. I thought that Toni Basas’ overall subpar season hurt them. Plus, the Lady Tams’ lack of stability at the setter position. I don’t think you can keep changing setters. That means there’s inconsistency. The UST Golden Tigresses, the other team in the Final Four also suffered from the same. And both teams with rotating setters got bundled out in a hurry.

You have to be solid at certain positions. To beat top sides like Ateneo and La Salle, you have to bring everything to the table and then some.

What can we glean from Ateneo’s game?

Let’s get this out of the way… they have this tendency to step off the gas pedal and commit errors or make poor attacking decisions in bunches. Not the first time we’ve seen this – against La Salle, NU, and FEU, of course.

However, they survived it and pulled off a huge win.

Think about that for a minute… they can see their game drop precariously and they still win. That steel-nerved resolve is due to many factors.

One of which is the championship experience gained so valuably from playing in the UAAP, the V-League, and the national team.

The return of Jhoana Maraguinot gave Ateneo its full complement of weaponry. And for the most part, they were firing on all cylinders today – Michelle Morente, Bea De Leon, Katrina Tolentino, Ana Gopico, and Jia Morado.

A lot has been said about Morado’s play, who in spite of her constant press and accolades, is someone who I call, “the quiet Phenom”. She refuses to draw attention to herself but is phenomenally amazing. Volleyball fans are blessed to see her, La Salle’s Kim Fajardo, and even NU’s Jasmine Nabor, all playing at the same time. Morado was once ore brilliant – on offense and defense.

We can point out to Morente as well who is one of the best two-way players in the league. But for this match, we have to single out two – De Leon and back up libero Deanna Wong.

De Leon has been this team’s emotional leader. But she has learned to temper her emotions. Having seen her during her senior year in high school, her rookie V-League collegiate conference with Ateneo, and all the way to her first UAAP season, how she has grown as a talent is a marvel to behold. How quickly she turned from a diamond in the rough to a vastly dependable all-around player! And she can get even better! How crazy is that?

As for Wong… you have to give a lot of credit to Ateneo head coach Anusorn Bundit who has really given his bench layers a massive break this second round and Final Four. Gopico might have overtaken Maddie Madayag but you know the latter is just there. And if you ask me, she arguably has the best serve on this team. Jules Samonte didn’t do too well in her Final Four debut but she’ll be better for that experience. But Wong… she was very good. That gives you a luxury with Gizelle Tan too there. I could be wrong here but do you know anyone who has won two different major individual awards in the V-league? Tan won Best Setter and then best Libero two years running (for the collegiate conference). Wong playing well is very good insurance for the Lady Eagles.

And they’ll have all that and more against La Salle this coming weekend. It’s going to be another bonanza finals for all fans.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Welcome BaliPure Version 2.0

BaliPure Version 2.0
by rick olivares

Welcome to the BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

Practice isn’t held at the Blue Eagle Gym. Instead it’s 15 kilometers away at the San Sebastian Gym along the University Belt in Manila.

These Water Defenders have some familiar faces. Former outside hitter Grethcel Soltones and libero Alyssa Eroa are back. Both were a part of the very first BaliPure squad after which they decamped for the Laoag Power Smashers in last year’s season-ending conference. They’re back now along with team managers Gil Cortez and Paulo Turno but that’s about it.

If you’re looking for an Ateneo connection because the old ones were dripping with it. well, there a few traces left.

Aside from the team owner, Tito Panlilio, who once played for the Blue Eagles in the NCAA, and Cortez nearly suited up for the Blue Eagles, and Turno who went to college at the Ateneo de Manila…. there’s the new head coach is the former Lady Eagles mentor, Roger Gorayeb. That’s it.

On a rainy Friday night, the new Water Defenders are engaged in drills at the San Sebastian Gym. When they practiced in Ateneo, it was under all those championship banners won by their basketball teams. While San Sebastian has its own championship pedigree in basketball with 12 NCAA seniors crowns, the ones that dominate the school’s athletic history are their men’s and women’s volleyball teams.

The other banners listing the titles won by the school’s varsity squads have been taken down for the moment. The only one up that Friday night was their women’s volleyball squad – 24 championships. But none since the 2010-11 season. They lost in the last three finals.

It’s a reminder both good and bad for BaliPure’s Gorayeb, Soltones, and Eroa who ended up on that losing side. They aren’t alone as Gorayeb’s BaliPure players from National University – Aiko Urdas, Jorelle Singh, Jasmine Nabor, and Risa Sato are still fresh from their poor UAAP outing.

“Motivation to for all of us,” succinctly put Soltones. “We all have to move on from our difficulties and lowest moments. Ganyan naman ang life, it gives you opportunities na makabawi.”

The team is nowhere a finished product. There are a couple of players from the University of Batangas trying out. They either play the open or utility position. The shoo-ins seem to have locked down those spots – Soltones, Urdas, and Singh. They have a top setter in Nabor who will forego surgery on her knee until after the conference. They have some two darn good liberos in Lizlee Ann Gata and Eroa. The middle position will find Risa Sato and Macy Mendiola but that’s it so far. And the team (as of Friday) still did not have its imports.

A planned team building session was scrapped because the team isn’t complete yet and it defeats the purpose.

“Building a team is a challenge,” said Turno while taking in the practice from a nearby desk. The assistant team manager was referring to the constant line-up changes. During the first conference, the Water Defenders’ offense was Soltones, Dzi Gervacio, and Alyssa Valdez. By the third conference, Valdez was with the Bureau of Customs squad and Soltones with Laoag. Now, Gervacio is with the Perlas Lady Spikers as is almost the entire former BaliPure roster.

“Previously, we weren’t too engaged in the formation of the team aside from sponsoring it. Without our former team, we’ve had to do everything ourselves,” clarified Turno. “Birth pains. So we build on this.”

The Water Defenders twice placed third last season.

This year, the expectations are a little different.

“Hindi naman kami all-star team like Pocari,” noted Gorayeb. “We were only organized a few weeks ago and we still do not have a complete line-up. Work in progress kami. Siyempre, lalaban kami. Ayaw naman namin magpabugbog. Pero it also depends sa imports na makukuha. Kung all-Filipino, eh, may laban. But in an import-laden tournament, mahirap unless you get the right one.”

For Soltones who won the Most Valuable Player Award for BaliPure’s maiden conference, the Open Conference, it’s an exciting challenge. “We’re like a new team with a few veteran and young players. For us to challenge, we hope that the imports we get will help out. For me though, opportunity. Am happy to be back in BaliPure and to play with other players like Jasmine Nabor who showed what she could do last year.”

For Nabor, BaliPure is her first club squad. After a disappointing end to National University’s UAAP season, she’s hoping for a good PVL tournament to erase the stigma. “Ayoko na mag-isip ng mga nangyari. Siyempre, disappointing. Pero good vibes na lang. Alam ko na hindi madali so manage expectations and work hard lang. Pero exciting.”

“If we had the old team together, we can build on the pair of third place finishes. But this is an entirely different team. Building from scratch. So we take it from there,” summed up Turno.

It’s a rainy night in Manila, Friday night. But if you listen closely to the sounds emanating from the six floor, the players are hollering during practice. They’re working to get into game shape and into mental shape as some try to shed any memories of recent ill fortune.

Different but same team. Different but the same old challenges. That’s it.

Welcome the 2017 BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Easter Reflection (the Pope, sports, and the world today)

Top to bottom clockwise: The Jackie Robinson statue outside Dodger Stadium, Pope Francis, a Pakistani female footballer (from Benjamin Zand's report), and Mashal Khan who was killed by a mob.

An Easter Reflection
by rick olivares

In his Easter Sunday, April 16, message to the faithful, Pope Francis reminded all to recall “the risen Christ” and not to ignore the plight of those seeking refuge from war, hunger, poverty, and social injustice.

A timely and pressing message in this day and age. Rising above it. Boy, do I know all about that. And how.

How poignant is the day?

Coincidentally and interestingly, on the same day, in the United States -- 12-15 hours behind us in the Philippines -- it was the 20th Anniversary of the league-wide retirement of Jackie Robinson’s #42.

April 15, 1947 was the day where Robinson smashed the color barrier when he played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers to begin a trying but ultimately remarkable 10-year career in Major League Baseball. Twenty years ago, the late Robinson’s number was retired from use from all professional baseball teams. It was a decree that was well met by both teams and their fans.

Thousands of miles away, British Broadcasting Corporation reporter Benjamin Zand’s photo and video report about Karachi, Pakistan, was posted on the broadcaster’s website. Zand met up with some forward thinking people working to remove the stain of the Taliban and violence in that country and to make Pakistan a better place.

In his report, Zand reported about the plight of female footballers who aren’t only widely accepted but have to deal with the violent backlash by the Taliban. Noted Zand, “However, those working towards reform, including members of the nation’s growing music community, feel that the reward is worth the risk.”

Imagine that? Your life is at risk for playing a game of football? All because some people would rather have you live like a stone aged hermit?

I think these two matters – an event and a report – distinctly unrelated yet are so important to the next step we the human race take especially with the world a more dangerous place today.

Especially for Pakistan that is still reeling from the death of college student Mashal Khan last Friday, April 14, at the hands of a mob that blamed him for blasphemous comments about Islam on social media. As investigations have shown, the Facebook comments that was allegedly posted by Khan, is fake. The Facebook page has since been mysteriously taken down. No doubt, the it was a deliberate attempt to blackmail him following the student’s complaints surrounding mismanagement of Abdul Wali Khan University by certain officials. And whoever put up the fake account achieved their nefarious and malicious intentions because Khan was killed at the hands of a brutal and mindless mob that never bothered to check the veracity of the reports.

The extreme times we live in are dangerous. It’s difficult to filter the demoralizing news that never seems to run out and I find myself reading with great interest a CNN International report that asks, “Can Dubai become the world’s happiest city?”

It’s odd that this city created out of a desert is bent on transforming Dubai into a smart and happy city. I, who eschew emojis as a means of showing my feelings, wonder if these digital icons can indeed bring good cheer in an otherwise insane world.

And that brings me back to Pope Francis’ message of “rising above it” and to “have hope” as personified by Jesus Christ’s resurrection. And we as individuals and as a people should “break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others."

The Pope also denounced the systems and bureaucracies "that strips them (people) of their rights and shatters their dreams."

And the message is crystal clear – to break down the walls just as Robinson did and to battle of systems and bureaucracies that shatter dreams like the female footballers in Karachi.

Life is tough. We make sacrifices. We break down And we do what we can.

As Zand put it congruently, the rewards are great.