THE popularity of women's volleyball is once again expected to spike now that the NCAA tournament is on its homestretch and the UAAP set to begin a brand-new season.
The local volleyball landscape has significantly changed over the past decade with the sport – arguably the next big thing after basketball – continuing to enjoy tremendous popularity, with post-collegiate leagues keeping players busy and stars emerging as poster girls and social media icons.
And no tournament has done more for this revolution than the Shakey's V-League, which has provided players moving out of collegiate leagues an avenue to chart careers while serving as a breeding ground of new talent.
“Transition (of talent) is key to keeping the league’s popularity. Talents will come and go but the league will continue discovering and producing stars year-in and year-out,” said Team Sports Vision's Ricky Palou, referring to a host of new but talented players now taking the cudgels for their respective teams, including Alyssa Valdez, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Isabel Molde, and Gretchel Soltones to name a few.
Sports Vision (composed of Palou, the late former PBA commissioner Jun Bernardino, former Asian Basketball Confederation sec-gen Moying Martelino and Qatar Basketball Federation players affairs supervisor Rhea Navarro), and Shakey’s (through general manager Vic Gregorio) joined hands to form the V-League in 2004, and held on through tough times early to keep the sport going and in play, so to speak.
They banked on a mix of former stars — like Charo Soriano, Rachel Anne Daquis, Aiza Maizo, Mary Jean Balse, Nene Bautista, Maria Angeli Tabaquero, Sue Roces, Angela Benting, Michelle Carolino — and new faces to generate interest and never stopped in coming up with innovations, including advocating for TV coverage to reach a wider audience and have some mainstream appeal.
“We’d be frank to say that all our efforts helped resurrect volleyball. And the live coverage of the games the last few years has further spurred the interest of the public,” said Palou.
Now, the sport has not only given way to young players dreaming to be the next superstars but also inspired other camps to put up their own tournaments and leagues, including a new pro club tourney as well as a pioneering men's league that have sprung in the last two years.
For a glimpse on how in-demand the sport is these days, consider one non-bearing UAAP game between collegiate rivals Ateneo and La Salle last year that drew close to 19,000 fans and supporters to the 16,000-seater MOA Arena. And a repeat of that crowd-drawing feat looms this season with three-peat seeking Ateneo and La Salle tipped to clash again and the likes of National University, University of the Philippines and a host of other schools itching to prove their worth.
“Frankly, the results were more than we ever hoped for,” said Palou, adding that the V-League expects to once again reach unprecedented growth this season in offering the same three-conference format it has had the past few years but with new tweaks.
Imports will once again beef up the teams in Open conferences to improve competition and raise the quality of play. Plus, the league’s partnership with GMA News TV Channel 11 gives it added boost with its live coverage of the matches, particularly from the semifinals to the championship.
In fact, the third conference of Season 12 has set a new standard in terms of telecast with the matches aired live, keeping the fans glued to their screens in what Sports Vision described as the “weekend volley festival.”
It’s easy to see that the gamble Shakey’s and Sports Vision took when it pushed all-in while holding the women’s volley card is paying off. But despite all these gains, the organizers of the V-League stressed that they will continue to keep pushing boundaries to reach their long-term goal.
“Our real dream is to see our national women’s team be a force to reckon with in international competitions,” he said.