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.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Finding wisdom (and moving forward) following Ateneo’s loss to La Salle

This appears in the Monday, February 29, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Finding wisdom (and moving forward) following Ateneo’s loss to La Salle
by rick olivares

Sometimes — only sometimes — when I look at Anusorn Bundit, I am reminded of famed New York Yankees manager Joe Torre. He comes in with a fresh take on handling a team, has some great instincts on whom to tap and to deliver, wins some championships here and there. He comes away looking like some great sports philosopher after Phil Jackson. 

Remember when Phil said, “When you meet Buddha in the lane, feed him?”

Or when Joe famously said after losing the first game in New York during the 1996 World Series that they will probably lose Game Two but win all three matches in Atlanta? The late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was too stunned to even remark that all he did was look at Torre like he was crazy. Well, the man was a seer. They did lose Game Two at home but they won the next three in Atlanta and Game Six in New York to clinch the World Series.

Bundit has his “happy happy” (that I first thought was out of Ren and Stimpy) and “Heartstrong” among many others. 

However, even Joe and Phil had to lose at some point.

Right after shaking the hands of DLSU coach Ramil De Jesus, Bundit went up to where I stood close to the exit leading to the locker rooms. “Sorry,” he offered as he put his hand on my shoulder. “Learn from this. Better. Next time.”

I wondered in the midst of the battle if the coach had prepared his team properly for this match. But that was immaterial by match’s end.

I didn’t feel too bad. In fact, I felt emboldened by what Bundit told me (and I was told he later said the same thing in the locker room to his team). It is a sign of humility after a particularly humiliating defeat. That means there is acceptance of the loss and the limitations rather than denial. And you know what they all say about learning the lessons following a defeat.

There are different ways to look at the Ateneo Lady Eagles' three-set shellacking at the hands of the La Salle Lady Spikers last Saturday. For starters, it isn’t the loss that is shocking -- La Salle is good and they do have a much better team. Furthermore, all streaks come to an end. Perhaps, the biggest shocker is how they lost — in three straight sets, befuddled, and with no answers.

You have to give credit to the Lady Spikers and De Jesus for giving Ateneo a dose of its own medicine from the past two years — powerful serves that blunted their attack, solid defense at the net, and his magic bunots from the bench. When you think about it, it makes sense to start Kim Dy as opposed to Carol Cerveza because the former is a better defender. And La Salle won it with great defense and an overpowering serve.

If you felt slighted by all the posturing of Mika Reyes and company after a spike, kill, block, or ace, why feel that way? That swagger has always been a part of their game. That style? Be happy for them. They found a style that is comfortable with them. As we have learned the past two years, the only way to shut them up is to win against them.

As for us, I prefer the low key or lack of boisterous celebrations. While I did love former setter Jem Ferrer’s feistiness against foes who liked to taunt, I am at ease with the Zen-like approach of “happy happy." 

Now, you may wonder why Bundit did nothing different while La Salle offered a somewhat different attack. First of all, if it ain’t broke why fix it? Second, if you look at Ateneo’s game plan through the years (even dating back to Roger Gorayeb’s time), they never tipped their hand on personnel changes, plays, or substitution patterns until the finals. La Salle has never been shy about their adjustments because they’ve always had deeper benches and better players. So now the onus is on Bundit and Ateneo to first bounce back and then adjust when they meet again.

On those occasions that Torre’s Yankees lost, Joe had this to say, “Competition isn’t about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding, and nurturing your people. Winning is the result.”

Also philosophised Jax, "And yet as coach, I know that being fixated on winning (or more likely, not losing) is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What’s more, obsessing about winning is a loser’s game. The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.” 

As the Ateneo team exited the locker room, Bundit came over again — first to talk about Liverpool’s Capital One Cup championship match against Manchester City (this coming Sunday) and with a final word on the La Salle loss. “We be stronger after the loss.”

I answered, "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  

Bundit nodded.

Translated: "The Ateneo Lady Eagles, we need to be heartstronger."

Kayla Richardson: Running towards an Olympic Dream

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Kayla Richardson: Running towards an Olympic Dream
by rick olivares

As a youngster growing up in Los Angeles, California, USA, Kayla Richardson was always running around. You know, playing children’s games. By the age of seven, after beating all the boys she ran against in a race in school, her father, Jeff, realized their potential and took the young girl to try out for a local track team. That put her on the path to higher education and now, an Olympic dream.

The 17-year old Kayla Richardson is one of the Philippines’ top bets for the Rio Olympics, and she had an incredible year in 2015. Days after winning a pair of California Interscholastic Federation track championships as a junior in Walnut High School, she boarded a plane to Singapore and won a gold medal for the Philippines in the 100-meter dash and a silver in the 200-meter dash. When she returned to the United States following the games, Richardson was named Track and Field Athlete of the Year in her home state.

The Fil-Am who traces her Philippine roots to Zamboanga City is already the fastest woman in Southeast Asia. She knows that the Summer Games are a completely different and is a more competitive level, but that doesn’t mean she won’t chase any golden dreams.

Rappler caught up with Richardson who had just finished competing at the Simplot Games in Idaho, USA, last weekend.

Rappler: Hi, Kayla. Pleased to talk to you. Do tell us something about your background.

Kayla: My mother and father met here in Los Angeles. My mom. Ludivina Siguiente, is from Zamboanga City while my dad, Jeff is from Los Angeles. 

My first sports experience was playing volleyball as a kid. I later joined a track team when I was seven years old after I was able to beat all of the boys in a school race. In spite of that, I still played a lot of volleyball and was named Most Valuable Player during my first two years in high school. After that, I committed to track and field. 

So far, my favorite and biggest sports accomplishment is winning the 2015 SEA Games 100m dash. I really did not expect to win so it was a great surprise. I didn't win the 200m so that gives me something to aim for at the next SEA Games. 

Rappler: We understand that it took a while for you to compete for the Philippines. What’s the story there?

Kayla: Before the Southeast Asian Games, my dad attempted to contact many people in the Philippines to try to connect me with the Philippine track and field team but they were unsuccessful. He was later contacted by Andrew Pirie who was instrumental in getting us connected with PATAFA.

Rappler: So how has the Philippine experience been for you?

Kayla: Competing for the Philippines is awesome because I have the experience of meeting other Filipinos and learning about Philippine culture. I also have the opportunity to inspire other people my age to achieve their goals and that nothing is impossible if you work hard and sacrifice. I am excited about representing the Philippines and bringing pride and joy to other Filipinos as I compete and try to win for them.

Rappler: Now, there’s that incredible chance of a lifetime to go to the Olympics. How do you size that up?

Kayla: The Rio Olympics will be an opportunity to compete with other great athletes on the highest stage for track and field and it will give me the opportunity to use the experience as a stepping stone to help build a strong Philippine team for the future. It will great if we can send a relay team as well. My goal is to surpass the 100m standard and the 200m standard and compete in both events. We also hope to bring a young team for the 4x100 meter relay as well. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Me and the World Series, UEFA Champions League & NBA trophies

Me with trophies from the World Series, the UEFA Champions League, and the NBA. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Three things from the Ateneo-UE women’s volleyball match

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Three things from the Ateneo-UE women’s volleyball match
by rick olivares

This match presented two teams going in opposite directions. While the Ateneo Lady Eagles are on course for another title (of course the season isn’t half done), the University of the East Lady Warriors continue to succumb to UAAP depths of mediocrity and infamy. 

Make no mistake, it wasn’t an easy match to watch because you have to feel for UE. 

Here are three things to take away from the match.

It is the perfect game right before the Lady Eagles’ match with La Salle.
With all due respect to the luckless UE Lady Warriors, the match was a relatively trouble free one for the two-time defending champions. Ateneo defeated UE in three straight sets - 25-12, 25-10, 25-10 — holding the Lady Warriors to their lowest point total of their lost season, 32 points. UE’s previous low was 41 against NU. 

Perhaps even more tragic is UE only had 10 won points (22 of the 32 came from Ateneo’s errors)! 

The frightening thing about games like this is when one team perceives it to be an easy win, they relax or play around a bit. And that finds them suddenly in a dogfight with a reinvigorated and upset-minded foe or dealing with some unnecessary injuries. No such thing for the Lady Eagles who quickly buried UE to allow the bench to empty.

Alyssa Valdez hasn’t really needed to exert herself too much this season and that underscores the strength and balance of the team. Once more, she deferred the spotlight with her teammates.

While not exactly a competitive match, it was loose game and afforded Ateneo a chance to experiment a bit right before Saturday’s big clash with La Salle.

Almost every Lady Eagle received some valuable and much-needed playing time.
In the previous match, Ponggay Gaston got some playing time underscoring the fact that Ateneo Coach Anusorn Bundit has plans for her. 

This time, he gave her more playing time and also some to Therese Gaston, Ria Lo, and Deanna Wong all who scored points if not contributed. Gizelle Tan also got some more playing time at the libero position.

I am a firm believer in giving rookies some if not meaningful playing time because it will help their confidence and keep them ready to go at any given time.

I feel bad for UE.
At 0-6 with only one won set and 18 lost ones (with one more match to go this first round), the Lady Warriors have quickly skidded down the table. Skidding is a massive understatement.

Dating back to Season 75, they have not won a game. Since that year, they have lost 48 matches. In that span, they are 9-144 in won-lost sets (they won three matches in Season 74).

I feel bad for these girls who still troop to the court and try to give it some fight. They have some talent for sure. They certainly have the height. But they need to get out of that losing funk. Sometimes, the errors they commit make you cringe.

And they are the only team in the league not to use knee pads. For whatever reason, I still feel bad for these girls. 

Hopefully, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel for them. They should go out and play harder and try to resurrect the season.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Just asking... why don't the UE Lady Warriors use knee pads?

Whoa! No knee pads. 

Deanna Wong's first successful set for the Ateneo Lady Eagles

Deanna Wong, the Ateneo Lady Eagles' rookie setter, entered the Ateneo-UE match in the third set with the score 22-9. She had two successive sets in her first taste of UAAP action.

Adamson Lady Falcons' match point vs FEU Feb. 24, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Ateneo Baldwin Eagles: Month #2.

The huddle at centercourt before practice.

The Ateneo Baldwin Eagles: Month #2.
by rick olivares

The task of rebuilding the Ateneo Blue Eagles is serious business.

That last holdovers from the five-peat team of four years ago have graduated. The remnants from last year’s campaign are back. “Hopefully, a year strong, more mature, and wiser,” underscored Adrian Wong who admitted that last year’s horrific miss of a lay-up and FEU’s subsequent game winner still haunts him. “We’ve got a new coach and a very good one who will hopefully get us over the hump.”

The new coach is Tab Baldwin although he wears the title of “consultant” due to a local law. But make no mistake, this is his show.

After the customary stretching drills, Baldwin called out to all the Ateneo Blue Eagles — both from Team A and B — to centercourt. He discussed the day’s practice session and what he wanted to accomplish. He then proceeded to demonstrate one drill with an assistant coach. When he wheeled around, he saw one player laughing. 

“Do you want to tell me what’s so funny about the drill,” the coach tersely asked.

And you could hear a pin drop.

“You all better start policing your ranks because what we are doing here is doing serious business. If you don’t then you can start running laps upstairs (in the indoor track oval of the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center)."

"Coach," related Thirdy Ravena before practice. "means business."

If you ask anyone who has attended the practice, Coach Tab is all about discipline. "He's killing them in practice," said one observer. 

On this day, there are other observers.

The Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters sit idly nearby waiting their turn. This is the first time that they will be practicing in the evening. They’ve changed skeds just for today to accommodate their new import who is just arriving. In the meantime, the Tropa watches the Ateneo practice. They are familiar with Baldwin who also works as a consultant for the squad.

“Coach has got a wealth of experience,” said TNT’s 13-year veteran Harvey Carey. “He’s got all that knowledge that he shares. You can see that he likes to teach. But man, he is a disciplinarian. But you’ll learn.”

Kiefer Ravena is on the sidelines too stretching. The former King Eagle will be joining Talk ’N Text for training as he prepares to leave for more training in the United States. He too knows what it’s all about: "With Coach Tab, I was under him during the SEA Games and yung natutunan ko is how to handle situations during games. Tamang-tama lang I learned that on my fifth year and going to the professional ranks. It isn’t solely the skill but the decision-making is also important.”

And speaking of decisions, many were surprised when Baldwin accepted the offer to coach the blue and white.

“I am loving it,” he proclaimed. “I had some early reservations but I am now loving it completely."

"I am doing what I love to do so no complaints for me. I think we’re going into our second month together. We’re making progress. It’s limited because we’ve got some guys on academic probation so we don’t have a full team but I think the ones who are able to get to all the sessions are working extremely hard.”

"When you coach internationally outside the US there are no real college teams. What I have done is coached development age teams and kids, under 16 and under-20 teams. But it has been a while since i have done this."

"I am getting back to something that you don’t do a lot in the professional ranks which is teach the basics, teach the fundamentals. I spent a full month of full drill work. No basketball games. We’re here teaching footwork. Teaching angles. Teaching spacing. Teaching techniques. Everything we’ve been doing is break down work. I am really enjoying it. I have to say that I have a tremendous group of assistant coaches to work with and they don’t require a lot of teaching and they absorb what I teach them and that’s what it’s all about." 

Sophomore Jay Javelosa who after his rookie year in Team A played for Team B the next campaign says he looks forward to every practice. “It is unfortunate that I have a hamstring injury right now,” said Javelosa. “But I love going to practice. You learn something new or even a different way of looking at the game. I am trying my best to keep up.”

For Baldwin, the state of the Blue Eagles is like a tabula rasa. "I haven’t taken away anything from last year’s team. This is a clean slate as far as I am concerned,” the coach bared. "We are building a team from scratch. I am not worried about what went on last year. There is no carryover as far as I am concerned. And we’ve sent that message to the players. Anything they are bringing in to the environment from last year is their choice and eventually that will all be scrubbed clean.”

“I think it’s good,” added Wong. “it keeps everyone on their toes."

Even in the team’s second month under Coach Tab, the coach refuses to name shoo-ins or stand outs. “All I can say is some will be in the A-team will some will ultimately end up in the B-team but we’re a long way from making those determinations just yet.” 

Baldwin just returned from a 10-day recruiting trip in the United States and he gently refused to divulge any juicy details. "I saw some kids who were fine prospects. We’ve put some offers out. At this point, we do not have any firm commitments. At this point, I am not interested in talking publicly who is coming to Ateneo next year. There should be a process in the UAAP where players sign a letter of intent. It should exist. But it doesn’t. So it is foolish for anyone to talk about securing a kid’s services for next year because the list of people who have gone back on their word is long and distinguished and I do not intend to get involved in that scenario. We will work on every kid until they enroll in the Ateneo." 

“We’ll get a good look at everyone in action soon. We’re looking at participating in the Filoil tournament. We’re finishing up the Fr. Martin Cup and I expect that we will have some overseas camp at some point.”

The summer tournaments means Ateneans, basketball fans, and opposing teams will get a full look at the new jack Blue Eagles. There will be expectations, comments, and event barbs. Baldwin, he admitted, is looking forward to it. "Well, I’ve heard from second hand sources what it is like to be in the Ateneo environment. I am looking forward to experience it. It is exciting. I don’t think you should ever be scared of people’s passion. We’re gonna succeed or we’re not. And I believe that we will be defined by our work ethic and judged by our results. That’s not fair but that is life. And life is not fair.”


Former Blue Eagles in the house (today): LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Epok Quimpo, Albert Mendoza, Oping Sumalinog, Kiefer Ravena, and Gene Afable.

Breaking down the shot clock for Phoenix Petroleum & Meralco

Meralco's Arinze Onuaku and Phoenix's RR Garcia. Photo c/o PBA Images

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Breaking down the shot clock for Phoenix Petroleum & Meralco
by rick olivares

It looks like the memory of the Philippine Cup is already distant. The Meralco Bolts are atop the league with a 4-0 slate (they finished 1-10 in the first conference) after they defeated Phoenix 90-87. But that doesn’t mean much for them as they too went 5-0 in the same conference last season but they came up empty by its end.

However, as Norman Black said, that was a different season and following their poor first conference, they’ll take any win; even one where they kept leaving change for Phoenix to steal the match.

Let’s break down the shot clock management for both teams and try to analyze their game.

Regular shot clock
24-19 seconds: 14 attempts, 12 made baskets, 3 turnovers
18-13 seconds: 22 attempts, 11 made baskets, 4 turnovers
12-7 seconds: 27 attempts, 6 made baskets, 4 turnovers
6-0 seconds: 12 attempts, 4 made baskets, 3 turnovers

Reset shot clock
22 resets
14-7 seconds: 18 attempts, 8 made baskets, 1 turnover
6-1 seconds: 3 attempts, 1 made basket, no turnover

Phoenix likes to run and play an uptempo offense. The scored 23 fastbreak points. 
If you look at the data, they score heavily in the first 12 seconds.
As the shot clock winds down, they don’t shoot particularly well. 
Turnover-wise, they have the same number 7 from the first 12 seconds to the last 12 seconds.

While taking a lot of shots early in the shot clock means the defense supposedly isn’t set, that doesn’t mean you are always taking good shots.

Meralco Bolts

Regular shot clock
24-19 seconds: 10 attempts, 6 made baskets, 2 turnovers
18-13 seconds: 21 attempts, 12 made baskets, 5 turnovers
12-7 seconds: 20 attempts, 9 made baskets, 4 turnovers
6-1 seconds: 16 attempts, 5 made baskets, 2 turnovers

Reset shot clock
22 resets
14-7 seconds: 12 attempts, 9 made baskets, 1 turnover
6-1 seconds: 6 attempts, 1 made basket, 2 turnovers

This is a team that likes to walk it up (well, they do have to accommodate Arinze Onuaku). As we have seen in our previous studies about the team, they do better when they work their half court sets with the bulk of their attempts coming from the 18th second up to the 7th second.

They had a lot of problems earlier in the match when they tried to work their low post game. Onuaku was double and triple teamed and upon the kick out, Cliff Hodge and Chris Newsome were missing their jumpers making it difficult for Meralco to score.

Unlike Phoenix that mostly ran their offense through their locals, they scored early. When Meralco flipped the switch and gave the ball to the locals more, it opened up the game for them and Onuaku later on.

The Bolts also did better at resets. 

Check out Ramon Vecina's photojournalism memoirs book!

Ramon Vecina has been friend since I returned to media in 2006 (after a long sabbatical since I was either abroad or in an entirely different industry). last Sunday, February 21, he gave me a copy of his photo book titled, Memoirs: Ramon Vecina 60 Years of Impact Photojournalism. It's a thick book containing photos form his coverage Philippine politics, lifestyle and entertainment, sports, and well, real life. While many of the photos could have been cleaned up since the original negatives from coverages (such as the Plaza Miranda bombing in the 1970s) and beauty pageants don't exist anymore, they are still something to glean. 

This is a good time capsule of the events that have captivated our lives and we should consider ourselves fortunate that Mon Vecina was there to capture them for us to appreciate and learn from.

Memoirs cost PhP500 and you may contact Tito Mon at this number 0977 815 6912.

Three things from Ateneo’s volleyball win over Adamson

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Three things from Ateneo’s volleyball win over Adamson
by rick olivares

The Ateneo Lady Eagles defeated the Adamson Lady Falcons in three sets last Saturday at the MOA Arena — 25-19, 25-23, 25-16 - to go to 5-0 for the season. If you pull up and look at the table at an almost immaculate slate (they dropped only one set so far and that was to the UST Golden Tigresses), they look imperious.

That doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. They lost two vital cogs in Denden Lazaro and Ella De Jesus and integrated two key replacements in Maddie Madayag and Jamie Lavitoria while looking to bring up another young weapon in Ponggay Gaston. Lavitoria only began starting the last two matches after Gizelle Tan somewhat struggled. The Lady Eagles have been tested and so far have risen to the challenge and there are things to take away even from their last match.

What doesn’t hurt you makes you stronger.
The Lady Falcons stayed in step with the Lady Eagles for almost the entire second set before they wilted. Ateneo finally put them away then the third set.

During Ateneo’s season opener against NU, they were seemingly on the ropes in the first two sets before they turned the tables around and completed the three-set sweep. They looked good in their first two sets against UST after which the Golden Tigresses made a match of it by taking the third set. In that fourth set, it wasn’t even close. 

It’s one thing to have practice games and another to gain that valuable experience in real matches. You could see the Lady Eagles as a work in progress in their first few matches as they moved Amy Ahomiro to a utility position while making way for Maddie Madayag as a middle player. And there too was that adjustment of Gizelle Tan and eventually Jamie Lavitoria as libero. But it seems that the past two and a half games, they’ve got it down pat. With the starting six and the rotation more or less set (with Kim Gequillana coming in for spot duty and Ponggay Gaston given her first taste of UAAP action), Ateneo coach Anusorn Bundit is gearing up for a longer battle. Five-and-oh doesn’t mean a thing yet. 

The Lady Eagles are constantly being tested and so far they have risen to the occasion. 

Maddie Madayag is just fun to watch.
The most improved player in the league is also the best server and one of the best blockers. She’s also the 17th best scorer in the UAAP. She goes about her work without fanfare; no excessive celebration and posturing, while knocking down those hammer spikes. 

When you think about it, last season Coach Tai was giving Maddie a taste of league action with spot duty here and there. If you ask me, that prepped her for this year. Nothing like a rookie being given a chance to play and show her worth. That makes this year’s adjustment a little easier. Just like what Tai did to Gaston against Adamson (with a lot of credit to setter Jia Morado) — score a meaningful point in a big game; that should get her confidence going.

Madayag, now full of confidence, is getting better game by game. She sure is fun to watch.

Can the Ateneo Lady Eagles incredibly be a better offensive bunch?
You have to appreciate that Alyssa Valdez doesn’t need to over-exert herself this year. She is getting a lot of scoring help from her teammates. 

Five of the Top 25 scorers in the league are from Ateneo — Valdez, Madayag, Bea De Leon, Jhoana Maraguinot, and Ahomiro. That says a lot. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Two things to take away from the NU-UST Women’s Volleyball Game

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Two things to take away from the NU-UST Women’s Volleyball Game
by rick olivares

Five-setters in volleyball are said to be tests of character. It means two squads fought to a standstill and now it’s close sudden death in a shorter and faster final set where it isn’t solely about skill but also mental fortitude. 

National University’s head coach, Roger Gorayeb knows that all too well. During UAAP’s Season 71 way back in 2008, as coach of the Ateneo Lady Eagles, he played four rookies in his starting six — Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, and Jem Ferrer. In their first four matches of that year, the Lady Eagles lost three five-setters. One can argue that the rookies lacked the experience and maturity to pull off a win against the likes of FEU and UST that season. 

However, for current UAAP teams like the UST Golden Tigresses and the NU Lady Bulldogs with their sprinkling of sophomores, juniors, seniors, and super seniors, you have to like their composition. They have what it takes to compete for the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Crown over the next few years. But why wait when they have a chance to fight for a Final Four slot and solidify their status as a legit contender and not an underachieving pretender.

Here’s what we can take away from the match that UST won in five sets (25-14, 25-18, 17-25,19-25,15-12).

NU’s biggest challenge is mental strength.
Easily the tallest team in the league. They’ve got loads of talent and a bench as well. Confidence is an issue though. You have some like Joyce Soliven and Ivy Perez who enjoyed lots of playing time until Roger Gorayeb arrived (and are not spot players). You have some who have thrived under their second year coach who is in his first full season at the bench such as Myla Pablo and Jorelle Singh. 

The Lady Bulldogs were riding an impressive three-match win streak where they took down Adamson after losing the first set, swept powerhouse La Salle, and made mincemeat out of UE. Against UST, they came out flat losing the first two sets as they had problems with floor defense, blocking, serving, you name it.

Myla Pablo was the only one in the match. She played with a painful toe injury en route to scoring 20 points. Others checked in and out. Jaja Santiago scattered 23 points with 8 coming in the fifth set. She was virtually absent in the first two sets. The others, Jorelle Singh in particular, checked out at the worst possible time, in the fifth set (and this after scoring a meaningful point after disappearing for great lengths).

By the third set, they turned it around. They even looked good leading three points in the fifth and final set, 12-9. They never got there. It didn’t help that Jaja Santiago wasn’t even in the match at that point as she was in the back and replaced by libero Fatima General.

When they won the V-League title over Ateneo, I wondered if it was right to win it with guest players like Dindin Santiago and Rubie De Leon playing key roles. Nothing wrong with it since it was the collegiate division with reinforcements and that is every team’s right. But I thought that it was a title run at the expense of players who would suit up in the UAAP who could greatly benefit from the experience. Their two V-League titles were won both with their guest players playing major roles. Yet each time, come UAAP, they fell spectacularly. The jury is still out this season as we aren’t even at the halfway mark. Of course, that could work either way.

The loss, nevertheless, hurts their placing. Their last two matches of the first round are against FEU and UP, also fighting for Final Four slots.

UST might have revived their struggling season.
This huge win hiked their record to 2-3 with two matches left both of which are tough ones — La Salle and UP. They already lost a five-setter to Adamson to start their season so you bet this boosts their confidence especially since it came at the hands of a top tier squad.

After taking the first two sets, UST wilted under the turnaround of the Lady Bulldogs. You can see how flat flat and tentative the Golden Tigresses were. Coach Shaq Reyes called timeout again and again not wanting to give NU any more confidence but UST pulled another Jekyll and Hyde switch.

They looked lost all the way until the fifth set when NU self-destructed on their own while UST gained confidence from some luck thrown their own way. But you take any win any way you can.

The Golden Tigresses got major contributions from Cherry Rondina, EJ Laure, and Carmela Tunay and quality minutes from late subs Chloe Cortez and Alyssa Teope. There were contributions from almost everyone save for Christine Francisco, the sole player not used. Nevertheless, they have to feel very good about this win.

If Tunay can consistently provide big numbers behind Rondina and Laure that would help UST advance. 

Where both teams go from here bears watching with great interest.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The football life with Rob Gier (including a Q&A and some old stories)

This appears in the Monday, February 22, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The football life with Rob Gier
The former Azkals captain says goodbye to the game but somehow, the game stays with him.
words and pics by rick olivares

When the 2016 Suzuki Cup semifinals kicks off this coming November, the Philippine Men’s Football National Team will be without one stalwart who has marshalled its defense since 2009. That is Robert James Gier who hung up his playing boots for good last Wednesday, February 17, with a letter bidding goodbye to the fans as well as the competitive game that has been a major part of his life for the past 16 years. 

The hosting of an entire series of group matches was one of the benefits of the football boom that started in 2010 during that historic Suzuki Cup run that Gier played a prominent part. In an interview with Gier during the Philippines’ triumphant return to the Suzuki Cup in 2012 not as foils but as equals, the Ascot, Berkshire-native said, “It is good to finally see other countries take us seriously and that we can stand up to them.”

With months away from that historic semifinals group stage hosting, a first in this country’s footballing history, the thought of walking away made it all the more difficult for Gier.

“The thought of that certainly did make the decision of retirement all the more difficult,” admitted the Azkals’ long-time centerback and former team captain. “If I thought that my body was up to another year of playing then I would have given it one last shot. However, age and injuries have finally caught up with me so now was the right time to make the call."

The call of the game came as a youngster. “As a kid, I supported Liverpool as my dad (Robert) was always a Liverpool fan. When I started high school, I started to watch Reading FC play most weeks so I guess they would be my team.”

“The love for the game has always been there for as long as I can remember. In England, football is just part of the culture. I remember playing endlessly with friends down the local park and also playing with my dad when he got back from work. Mobile phones and tablets were not around back then so we would just play outside all the time. I think there is nothing better than playing football with your best mates just for fun. The banter, laughs, and relationships forged out of this early period laid the foundations for my career.”

As a youngster, Gier first played for his hometown Ascot United after which he drew some attention from Wimbledon FC that was just relegated from the Premiership (they have been known as the MK Dons since 2004). Gier also suited up for Rushden & Diamonds, Cambridge United, Woking, Aldershot Town, and Grays Athletic before returning to the club where he started his career, Ascot, proving that yes, you can go home again.

And a part of that home was in his mother, Rosario’s homeland of the Philippines. It was while he was playing for Grays Athletic that he received an invite to try out for the Philippine National Team. “My mum would always get on me to make contact with the Philippine Football Federation but I wasn’t sure if the Philippines even had a team. It wasn’t until a chance message on Facebook that it took off. I jumped at the chance in 2009 for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in the Maldives and the rest is history.”

Neil Etheridge, Jason De Jong, Phil Younghusband, Rob Gier, and James Younghusband at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, 2010.

And Gier was a part of the Azkals’ incredible run in the past six years. Gier cites the 2012 Suzuki Cup where he was named team captain, the 2014 Suzuki Cup match against Indonesia where he scored the Philippines’ fourth goal in an incredible rout of their 2010 tormentors, and the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup as highlights in his career. “Without a doubt, the Suzuki Cup of 2010 is the one highlight of them all,” he accentuates. “I don’t think any team in the world will recreate that fairy tale and even now I have to pinch myself to see if it did really happen. That group of players was a special bunch and the feeling after scoring that equaliser against Singapore, wow! It still gives me goosebumps.”

While Gier is now retired, aside from spending more time with wife, Emma, and children Lily and Joseph, in some ways, the game will remain a part of his post-competitive football life. He founded Zenith Soccer Tours in 2014 with the aim of providing players and teams whatever their ability, an elite life experience they will never forget (check of Zenith Soccer in Facebook).

After the 2014 Suzuki Cup, I floated the idea of Rob Gier taking over as head coach of the Azkals one day. While flattered at the thought, he admits that it is something that he will seriously consider. “However, I need to learn more about the game, gain some qualifications, but who knows?”

In the past few years, Gier has shown some of those chops that every coach must posses — a tactical nous. Despite being a player, Rob would provide detailed scouting reports on the Philippines’ football foes that the team would use in its preparations. “Football is in my blood and I have been lucky enough to have had a good, long career. During that time, I have played under some good, bad, and indifferent coaches; seen how different teams are run; and I’ve experienced all aspects of professional football. Because of this, I feel that coaching will be the right avenue for me to go down. I particularly like working with the younger generation as they start out their footballing adventure. Hopefully, I will be able to impart a bit of the experiences I have had along the way to help make them better footballers and if possible, better individuals.”


Q&A with Rob Gier

Rick: How far can you recall your falling in love with the game of football? What memories and stories can you share as a youngster growing up in England? Where exactly in England did you grow up and what club did you support? 

Rob: I grew up in Ascot, Berkshire and as a kid I supported Liverpool as my Dad was always a Liverpool fan.  When I started high school I started going to watch Reading FC play most weeks so I guess they would be my team.

The love for the game has always been there for as long as I can remember.  In England football is just part of the culture.  I remember playing endlessly with friends down the local park and also playing with my Dad when he got back from work.  Mobile phones and tablets were not around back then so we would just play outside all the time.  I don’t think there is anything better than playing football with your best mates just for fun.  The banter, laughs and relationships forged out of this early period certainly laid the foundations for my career.  

Rick: Can you give us a rundown of the clubs you played for in your entire career?

Rob: I started playing when I was a young boy for Ascot United and when I was 11 or 12 years old I eventually got scouted and was asked to go and trial for Wimbledon FC (before they were MK Dons).  They were in the Premier league at the time so it was a big deal for me.  I progressed through the youth ranks and I managed to earn myself a professional contract at Wimbledon FC and stayed there for about 4/5 years playing in the Championship.

From there I went to Rushden and Diamonds for 2 years whilst they were in League 2 then had brief stints at Cambridge United and Woking FC who were in the Conference at the time.  Then I went to Aldershot Town where we won the Conference but after disappointingly being released I joined Grays Athletic FC.  It was around this time that I got the call from the Philippines National Football Team (2009).  After Grays, I made a conscious decision to step back from professional football as there were many aspects about the game I detested (some I still do) so I went back to Play at Ascot United as I had a lot of friends there and I wanted to start enjoying my club football again.

Rick: What can you share about your parents? How much of an influence do they have on who Rob Gier is today?

Rob: I owe them everything.  My dad would have to collect me from school, drive me on a 3 hour round trip to get to training on a Thursday night after having been at work all day and then do the same again on Saturday for the games.  Without him I would never have had the career I have enjoyed.  They brought me up knowing the difference between right and wrong and instilled good family values.  I hope I have repaid them and made them proud, at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

Rick: How did you get involved with the National Team? What were the circumstances that brought you here? What was your first match for the Azkals and what was your take away from that match? What was the result?

Rob: My mum always would get on at me saying to get in touch and make contact with the PFF, but I was unsure if the Philippines even had a team.  It wasn’t until a chance message on Facebook that started things off.  I then sent my footballing cv in to the PFF and they contacted me a few months later asking if I would be interested in joining up with the team, I jumped at the chance.  That was in 2009 and my first tournament was the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in the Maldives.  The rest is history

Rick: You have seen the growth of Philippine football. What are the highlights of your national team career?

Rob: There have been many highlights, being named captain during the 2012 Suzuki Cup, scoring against Indonesia, the run to the final in the Challenge Cup 2014 all stand out,  but without doubt the whole experience of the Suzuki Cup in 2010 is my National Team highlight.  I don’t think any team in the world will recreate that fairy tale story and even now I have to pinch myself to see if it really did happen.  That group of players were a special bunch and the feeling after scoring that equaliser against Singapore, Wow.  It still gives me goosebumps.

Rick: Aside from playing for the team, you have helped by providing scouting reports etc. Is that an indication about your direction -- coaching? What do you think of coaching the national team?

Rob: Football is in my blood and I have been lucky enough to have had a good, long career.  During that time I have played under some good, bad and indifferent coaches, seen how different teams are run (again, run well, run badly and indifferently) and I’ve experienced all aspects of professional football.  Because of this I feel that coaching will be the right avenue for me to go down.  I particularly like working with the younger generation as they start out on their footballing adventure, hopefully I will be able to impart a bit of the experiences I have had along the way to help make then better footballers and possibly better individuals.
As for coaching the National Team some day;  If I was offered that privilege in the future it is something I would have to seriously consider.  I need to learn more about the game, gain more qualifications but one day who knows…

Rick: How’s the family? Any additions to your fam? Where do you live in England?

Rob: Emma and I now have two beautiful children, Lily aged 4 and Joseph (JJ) is nearly 2.  Being able to spend more time with them has been one major factor in my decision to retire.  Azkals duty inevitability means being away for extended periods of time so now the children are growing up I don’t want to miss out on that.  

We currently live near Oxford in a small countryside town, I prefer that to the hustle and bustle of a big city.

Rick: Are you only done with national team football or does that include club football? What are you doing for work?

Rob: I have retired from all forms of competitive football, I will always have a little 5 a side kick about with some friends but that’s about it.  I’ll enjoy going to watch a few more games on the weekend and eventually take the kids when they get a little bit older.

Zenith Soccer Tours is a venture that I started up in 2014 and we ran our first soccer camp in the UK back in 2015.  I established Zenith Soccer Tours with the aim of providing players and teams, whatever their ability, an elite life experience that they will never forget.

I can honestly say that the experiences I have had playing football in different countries has helped mould me as a player and as a person.  Encountering different ways of life and cultures has helped me focus on what I believe is important and I believe anyone can benefit from exposure to such experiences.

We are now entering out 2nd exciting year with many things planned for 2016.  Please watch out for announcements via our twitter and Facebook pages!!  @ZenithSoccer

Finally let me thank all the fans and followers of Philippines football. You have been so supportive of me and the team throughout these past 7 years and all the messages regarding my retirement have been over whelming.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Fans are the life blood of any sport and we must never forget that.  During a time where many European teams are hiking up their ticket prices so they can get more “customers” through the door we cannot disregard the regular fan, the people that watch football because they love the sport and will support their team until their last breath, the fan that works hard Monday to Friday and looks forward to cheering his team on every Saturday, the fan that comes because his father used to go every week and his father before him did the same, the parent that wants to bring their child to watch their beloved club and introduce the next generation of football fan, the fan that has saved up their money to finally be able to watch their team for the first time, the fan that is devoted to being a supporter, the fan that travels to every game come rain or shine, home or away.  Football cannot be allowed to exploit these people otherwise football will just be 22 players running around a patch of grass kicking a ball.


Additional reading. Past stories I wrote featuring Rob Gier. Kindly click on the links.

This is the article that first floated the idea of Rob Gier as future Azkals coach. This was written in 2012.

The Azkals play the globalization game (I wrote this is Hanoi in 2010)