RC Cola Army soldiers on despite uncertain future as roaring 2016 comeback ends with a whimper
RC Cola Army faces an uncertain future as two players have retired while stars like Jovelyn Gonzaga are on leave for six months for military training. Jerome Ascano

RC Cola Army’s much-anticipated comeback in 2016 started with a roar but ended with a whimper, yet coach Kungfu Reyes looked back fondly on the tough year that’s about to pass by especially with the uncertain future ahead for the Lady Troopers.

After ruling the Philippine Super Liga’s first three conferences from 2013 to 2014, Philippine Army took a year off before going back in the 2016 Invitational Conference where the Lady Troopers proved doubters wrong in winning the crown in their comeback tournament.

But it would prove to be their brightest moment for the year as fatigue mixed with their aging core caused their downfall, according to Reyes.

"Naging maganda ang start noong January so fresh na fresh kami kung san nanalo kami sa Thailand sa PSL Invitational, which is a historic moment for Philippine Volleyball," said Reyes, whose wards defeated Thai team Est Cola before they settled for third and fourth place in the All-Filipino and Grand Prix, respectively.

"Pero noong mga sumunod na conference na, sa haba ng liga, may AFP Olympics so wala kaming panahon para mag-rest. Trabaho nang trabaho, naglabasan na brittleness ng buto," he added.

Despite their floundering finish, Reyes stuck to the positives as the Lady Troopers remained contenders all year long and kept in pace with their vastly improved foes in the PSL.

Back-to-back Grand Prix champion Foton used to be cellar-dwellers, and newcomer F2 Logistics showed grit and poise in winning the All Filipino tournament, while Petron remained to be a force to reckoned with in the league.

"At least sa bandang dulo, 'di kami nawala sa top four. Malaking bagay na 'yun. Kasi 'di naman kami lagi nasa taas, galing na kami sa taas alam na namin pano gawin 'yun. Ngayon alam na namin nararamdaman ng nasa baba, learning pa rin."

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"Happy kami kasi may mga lumalakas na team, 'di na kami 'yung dominating na pag sinabi mong Army, ah army na mananalao," he added. "Andun na ang challenge, well supported, lahat ng team malalakas. Mataas na liga ang PSL, kailangan sumabay ka. 'Di naman kami naiiwan, breaks of the game, injuries sometimes."

But when asked about their plans for 2017, the outspoken coach’s sudden pause spoke volumes, before he described an uncertain future for the Lady Troopers.

Army veteran setter Tina Salak has finally decided to call it a career and spiker Michelle Carolino also retired due to a back injury. Most of the players, including Jovelyn Gonzaga, Honey Royse Tubino, Nene Bautista and Tin Agno, will also go on military training for six months.

"Medyo drought 'yan sa Army kasi at least eight or nine players namin magte-training soldiering, almost six months 'yun. Sina Tina and Michell,e garahe na. Si Michelle is suffering sa scoliosis niya, nakita ko naka-S na, 'di na siya gumagalaw masyado," said Reyes.

Despite the uncertainty, Reyes remained defiant that the Lady Troopers can bounce back and soldier on. At present, though, he is looking forward to get his wards some much-deserved time off to rest and regroup.

"Definitely mababago ang mukha ng Army ngayong 2017," he stressed. "Kung papano 'di ko pa rin alam. We’ll get there when we get there pero tuloy pa rin."

"At this time, pahinga muna kami, 'yun ang hinihintay ng lahat 'yung pahinga. Time to recover naman para palakasin tissue namin, buo uli," added Reyes.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @meilinlozada