THEY say that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Thankfully, the same can't be said for Emil Lontoc.
At 70, the multi-titled coach remains at the top of his game and was tapped to take the lead for Petron by no less than San Miguel Corp. sports director Alfrancis Chua.
While others at his age are already enjoying retirement, Lontoc is busy training as the Blaze Spikers gun for a third straight championship in the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix.
Leading up to the opening on Saturday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City, netizens have been talking about their favorite teams and how Petron, a team in the midst of rebuilding, will fare in the competition.
But the off-court chatter is none of his concern. “Hindi ako tumitingin at nakikinig sa mga sinasabi ng iba, meron akong sistema at updated naman ako sa training. Hindi naman ako nawala sa training. Ganoon naman ang mga bagay sa volleyball,” said Lontoc, who has 25 UAAP titles under his belt.
“Syempre talagang titignan mo ‘yung team ng Petron ngayon, ‘yung composition ng team, maraming nawala,” he added. “Maraming magtatanong, paano ko mapapalakas ‘yun? Pero positive thinker ako eh, ‘yung players na natira sa akin, kayang lumakas at humabol. Nakita ko naman ‘yun sa tune up games.”
The back-to-back defending champion lost key players Sisi Rondina, Bernadeth Pons, Mika Reyes, Rhea Dimaculangan and Denden Lazaro, but Lontoc is optimistic of the Blaze Spikers’ chances.
The seasoned coach recalled how he lead the women’s volleyball team to a bronze medal finish in the 2001 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“Sanay naman ako sa mga sitwasyong ganyan, total revamp ‘yung team,” said Lontoc. “I experienced that na walang setter, walang libero, mga bagong players pero na-prove namin na nag-medal. Nag-best setter, best blocker, second best libero [‘yung players ko].
“Sa SEA Games 2001, best setter si Tina Salak, best blocker si [Roxanne] Pimentel tapos si Helen Dosdos nag-second best libero. In six months training, lumaban kami and then nag-medal ‘yung team,” he added.
Hoping to duplicate his success in the biennial games almost two decades ago, Lontoc said that hard work and discipline will be the key.
“Sabi ko sa kanila, kung noong high school up to college pinapagalitan na kayo, ngayon at this level na professional na kayo, hindi ko na kailangan sumigaw. Makinig lang kayo sa instructions, magkakasundo tayo,” he said.
“Kasi alam nila na istrikto talaga ako. May players nga ako na nilagnat noong nag-one-man. Kapag training, training talaga, disiplina,” he added.
Returning import Kath Bell will reunite with mainstays Ces Molina, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Remy Palma along with new comers Ging Balse, Angela Nunag, Rebecca Rivera, Roselle Baliton and Jem Gutierrez.