Rising to the challenge: SSCR’s Alyssa Eroa on winning their third straight beach volleyball title
Ceej Tantengco on Feb 17, 2016 10:17 AM
“Being the two-time best digger in the NCAA, Alyssa has the instinct to make sure the ball would never drop to the floor,” - NCAA anchor Anton Roxas
In the moments after the SSCR Lady Stags won the NCAA Season 91 beach volleyball championship, Alyssa Eroa alternated between breaking into a grin and breaking into tears. “Teka lang ate, iyak ko muna ito,” said Eroa, looking around for a towel.
The journey to their third straight title had been far from easy, with a surprise lineup switch midway through the tournament, and a finals match against a team that had swept the elimination round. When the dust cleared, small yet gritty reserve player Eroa emerged as the biggest surprise of the women’s tournament.
An unexpected challenge
As the defending beach volleyball champions and a perennial powerhouse in indoor volleyball, the San Sebastian College-Recoletos Lady Stags were tagged early on as the favorites to take home the crown. But Eroa says even they grew doubtful after Dangie Encarnacion accidentally ran into the net and tore her lip, forcing the 4’11” Eroa to take her place.
Eroa didn’t think she was at 100 percent. “Noong natapos ‘yung indoor volleyball tournament, nagkasakit ako for two weeks,” she says. “Kaya hindi ako nakakasama sa training [nina Grethcel Soltones at Dangie Encarnacion]. Tapos isang beses lang ako nakapag-train sa buhangin.”
“Nakunsensiya nga ako kasi naisip ko pa, okay lang kasi reserve lang naman ako at wala namang na-i-injure sa beach volleyball,” admits Eroa, a first-timer in NCAA beach volleyball.
Once a reserve player enters the tournament, she may no longer be switched out. Soltones and Eroa were tense as they took Encarnacion to the hospital, not even speaking on the way there.
“Iniisip ko lang sa sarili ko, ‘kaya ko ba talaga ito?’” recalls Eroa. “Habang binabantayan ko si Danj, biglang sabi niya sa akin, ‘Ready ka na ba?’ Sa totoo lang hindi ko alam kung kaya ko pero alam ko ‘yun ‘yung way niya para ma-motivate ako, kaya sabi ko lang, ‘oo, kaya ko.’”
Smarts on the sands
Spurred on by Encarnacion’s words of encouragement, Eroa and Soltones made good work in their weekday matches. They lost only to San Beda’s Viray twins, who swept the elimination round.
“Sobra akong nagulat, Doon ko nakita na pwede pala manalo sa beach volleyball ang isang koponan maski hindi sila nagbo-block,” says NCAA anchor Anton Roxas.
“Instead of going for the normal receive-set-spike, what San Sebastian did was have Alyssa receive the ball and at the same time set it up for Grethcel so she could hit the ball on a one-two play,” adds Roxas. “That was really clever.”
Soltones believes their experience and closeness off the court helped the duo adjust quickly. “Kapag may problema ako, siya kinakausap ko,” Soltones shares. To deal with the stress of the tournament—and to practice moves she doesn’t usually get to do as the Lady Stags’ libero—Eroa DIY-ed a ball out of crumpled paper and practiced spiking it across their room.
This simple act would pay off in the finals, where Eroa showcased her reception skills while also proving she had attacking power in her wheelhouse.
“Being the two-time best digger in the NCAA, Alyssa has the instinct to make sure the ball would never drop to the floor,” explains Roxas. “And this was evident during the 2nd to the last point of SSCR when she just dove and swung at the ball and it almost miraculously went to San Beda’s side and touched the line.”
Roxas adds: “To me, that was the play of the game.”
Eroa regained her composure in time for the awarding ceremony, trading tears of joy for a huge grin: “Para ito sa school, kay Coach Roger [Gorayeb, SSC-R’s head coach], kay Coach Clint [Malazo, assistant coach in charge of beach volleyball], Atty. Reynold Munsayac [athletics director], sa mga pamilya namin at lahat ng sumuporta!”