Ace setter says he’s now feeling the pinch of aging
Multi-awarded setter Jessie Lopez does a jumping quick set for Philippine Air Force teammate Reyson Fuentes in Game 1 of the ongoing best-of-three title series between PAF and defending champion Cignal in the Spikers’ Turf Season 2-Third Conference at Philsports Arena. Air Force won in five sets.
Hard to believe, but 2016 Open Conference Best Setter awardee Jessie Lopez said age is now creeping up on him.
After all, he’s only 30.
Straight from Philippine Air Force’s nail-biting, five-set win over defending champion Cignal in Game 1 of their Spikers’ Turf Season 2-Third Conference best-of-three title series Wednesday, the good-looking dad of a one-year-old boy was seated slumped on the cement floor just outside the locker, his back against the wall. He was still panting hard while furiously kneading his thighs and knees.
"I’m growing old,” said he. “Long games now enervate me; they make my body sore. My arms, my back, my legs, my feet.”
He kept rubbing his tired legs with two hands while answering questions in this ambush interview, his eyes reflecting the fresh excitement and joy of the other Jet Spikers following their two-hour 25-23, 25-29, 19-25, 25-27, 15-12 conquest of the gallant HD Spikers.
Had they lost he was ready to claim responsibility for it.
What had looked like a romp after taking the first two sets turned into a nightmare-in-the-making for the hot-starting Airmen when Cignal dug itself out of a gaping hole to even the score at 2-all and force a rubber set.
But Lopez said, though, that they were already getting back together in the fourth set, even if they dropped it.
"I contributed a lot to our collapse in the third and fourth sets,” he analyzed. “I lost myself and my game when my spikers kept piling up errors. I got angry and showed it; I focused on their mistakes instead of leading them back together again. As the more senior on the team I ought to lead us back into the game. I’m glad I did just that in time. It was another great learning experience for us.”
But is he ready to quit? He let out a hearty chuckle to say he is not. He’ll keep on playing as long as he is able, according to one of his pronouncements in early interviews.
It looks written on the wall.
The former national player and Tamaraw who has three straight of Far Eastern University’s long skein of UAAP championships, is poised to become this season’s Spikers Turf Best Setter yet again, a special award he already distinguished himself with in the 2015 and 2016 Open Conferences and in other university and commercial leagues before those.
High word for Spikers’ Turf
The enlisted Air Force recruit from Sta. Cruz, Laguna, said he’d be forever grateful to Spikers’ Turf, which was launched in April last year in partnership with official outfitter Accel and official ball Mikasa, for providing men in uniform like him to have an annual high-power competition to play in.
He’s particularly thrilled that the league has since its inception been giving setters, the games’ unsung heroes more commonly referred to as tossers the full recognition they have long deserved.
“The arrival of Spikers’ Turf on the sporting scene couldn’t have come at a better time,” said the five-foot-nine Lopez, who has been playing competitive volleyball since he was in Grade V.
“Philippine men’s volleyball has been lagging far behind women’s volleyball in terms of activity and popularity. I am happy to note that Spikers’ Turf is aiming at popularizing men’s volleyball hereabouts and happier still that it is recognizing the efforts of setters like me by occasionally picking one from our ranks as Player of the Game.”
Opponents sometimes grudgingly talk about Lopez’s nonpareil skills as a setter and, more especially, about how he does not want to lose a game.
“Ayaw patatalo niyan,” commented one veteran setter from another team. “Grabe ang killer instinct sa laro. Kahit exhibition lang o friendly game gusto ni Jessie na laging panalo ang kanyang team na sinalihan.”
Expectedly, the native of Sta. Cruz, Laguna, commands the respects and adulation of the younger setters.
Vince Mangulabnan, 22, a former NU Bulldog who now plays for Cignal, and the exciting Ish Polovorosa, 19, of Ateneo, back-to-back champion of both the UAAP and the Spikers’ Collegiate Conference, virtually gush with praises for Lopez. Here’s what they say of him.
Mangulabnan: “He’s one of my idols na setter. Siya po mostly ang nagturo sa akin ng pagse-set being our assistant coach while I was with NU. Super dami ng natutunan ko sa kanya lalo na sa skills at game situations. ‘Di siya nagsasawa ng pagtuturo sa akin. ‘Pag may napansin siyang mali, sinasabi po niya agad sa akin para agad ding makapag-adjust ako. He’s a strict coach when on the court but super bait ‘pag nasa labas na.”
Polvorosa: “I am amazed by his exceptional setting skills, leadership and court sense. I hope to acquire the mastery of these skills throughout the course of my playing career like him. He was one of my local men’s volleyball idols growing up. I salute him for his inspiring personal and team achievements and dedication both as player and coach. I look forward to possibly having him as my teammate in the future because I know I will learn from his experiences not just in volleyball but also in life.”
Of all the special awards and team championships he’s won so far, which are many, Lopez treasures the titles wife Cristine and son Lancelot Jacobo have accorded him the most – Best husband and best dad in the world.