The Philippine Volleyball Affair

Since it was introduced to Filipinos in 1910, volleyball has earned a place in their hearts.

Cover image: The Philippines Men's Volleyball Team deliver a killer spike vs Malaysia in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. (rappler.com)

Conceived in 1895 by William G. Morgan, volleyball was brought to the Philippines in 1910, where enthusiastic local interest would lead to Filipinos leaving marks on the game that exist to this day.

First up: the three-hit limit. Before the standard limit was introduced, Pinoy players had the habit of taking their time before sending the ball back to the opponent’s court, letting each member of the team hit the ball. This would have the unfortunate effect of dragging out games for entire stretches where pretty much nothing was happening. While the introduction of the three hit limit and supporting back court rules wouldn’t be made official until 1920, it was in the Philippines that the idea first originated.

The area in which Pinoy players most directly influenced the modern game came in 1916, with the popularization of the set and spike, now recognized among the most essential attacks in a volleyball team’s repertoire. This is the play where the ball is pushed high into the air, setting up an opportunity for a teammate to spike it over the net to the opponent’s side before they have a chance to react.

In the decades since then, Philippine volleyball has seen its shares of highs and lows, particularly in the men’s division, with our country sitting out the majority of international tournaments since the mid-1970s. Faring better both here and abroad, was our women’s squad, which won gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games from the late 70s through to the early 2000s before bowing out of international competition due to reasons still unclear.

 

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From its beginnings as an American-introduced past time, volleyball has grown to become one of the Philippines’ favorite sports. (facebook.com/AlaskaVolleyballPowercamp)

 
This absence did not, however, prevent the popularity of volleyball from experiencing something of an upswing, as the country played host to a number of local and international tournaments, including the 1999 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix. It was that tournament, which saw foreign stars like Brazil’s Leila Barros elevated to the status of celebrities that would set the stage for volleyball’s ascent into prominence in the eyes of the Filipino sports fan.

In 2004, the introduction of the V-League would prove to be a watershed for what had, until then, been a sport that struggling to find an audience. Within the space of a few short years, the V-League’s status as a televised event would make mainstream celebrities of players like those in Ateneo’s nigh-mythical “Fab Five” (Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer, Gretchen Ho, Aillysse Nacach, and Dzi Gervacio).

In introducing the viewing public to the country’s top collegiate players, the V-League succeeded in bringing to the fore rivalries, debates, and followings as intense as any devoted to basketball – a fact reflected by the games’ attendance.

Speaking with the Inquirer on the increasing audiences, former San Sebastian player Suzanne Roces said, “I was surprised when people came to watch us play… Before, the only people who would watch us play were our schoolmates.”

 

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In 2015, after 10 years, the Philippines fielded a national team to a SEA Games held outside the country. (instagram.com/alyssa_valdez2)

 
Today, it is no longer uncommon for stadiums and arenas hosting volleyball tournaments to be sold out, packed to the rafters with screaming fans. The introduction of additional tournaments such as the Philippine Super Liga, Spikers’ Turf, and a men’s division in the V-League have helped to further stoke the passions of fans. Perhaps the biggest sign of volleyball’s renaissance came earlier this year, as the Philippines fielded its first women’s team to the SEA Games in a decade.

While mainstream acceptance of Philippine men’s volleyball has yet to become as pervasive as that of its women’s counterpart, it is undeniable that volleyball has come a long way since 1910. That being said, even though the Filipinos’ affair with the sport may not have been as consistently visible as our PDA-laden long-term relationship with basketball, it can definitely be said that the sport occupies a spot near and dear to many a Pinoy’s heart.

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