The big change Michele Gumabao noticed in women’s volleyball over time

Barry Viloria on Feb 23, 2017 09:51 PM
What Michele Gumabao noticed in women’s volleyball over time
An excerpt from the celebrity athlete’s cover story in 'UAAP Magazine' about the growth of the sport including the young women in it. (Photo taken from Gumabao's Facebook account)

Having been part of the UAAP Magazine staff for six years now, producing a yearly issue solely dedicated to the country’s biggest athletic league provides a chance to witness the change in the sports landscape yourself. The zeitgeist always dictates what content to feature, something or someone that is interesting, and not only timely but also timeless and forward. I don’t have to say the obvious, but let’s just say we used to just feature relatively fewer women’s volleyball athletes only in the inside pages. (See below.)

Breaking the usual basketball-centric cover that we thought exclusively clicked with the market, one of these ladies formerly gracing inside features finally landed on the magazine cover. It was the 2013 issue, showing her in a fierce stance next to a male baller. The cover showed only the two of them, no other guy flanking next to whoever. She stood so firmly, as if saying she also had the (star) power, strength, and influence matching whatever the masculine force beside her bore. Her fellow female successors got their own cover in the next issue after that. And then another. And then one more. Every issue from 2014 to 2016. It has become a norm for a sports magazine cover. The norm.

The first volleybelle to have graced that historic issue was former DLSU Lady Spiker Michele Gumabao, fresh from the team’s Season 75 championship. While I like to believe the magazine has improved especially in terms of aesthetic since (yikes, looking at it now gives us the tingle!), I believe it’s still the best-selling issue among the rest of the yearly issues in history. Our editorial director at ABS-CBN Publishing, Inc. would always tell me that whenever we go into conceptualization and production. “Maybe because it was the first time we put a volleyball star on the cover?” she would go. I always agreed with her on that.

We then found it fitting to have Gumabao—now a graduate, a bona fide celebrity athlete dabbling into a lot of things apart from volleyball—write the cover story of our most recent issue. The theme “Star Athletes” perfectly matched her credentials, and writing about our cover subjects Kianna Dy, Bea de Leon, and Isa Molde—all of whom are rising stars who are fast following her footsteps—was something she could do in her sleep.

Thankfully, Gumabao, who has also become a good friend, obliged. (I owe you one, Michele!) Here’s an excerpt of the article she wrote. If you want to read the full story, you can still get your copy of the latest UAAP Magazine in newsstands nationwide!

I used to watch my older sister Kat compete for DLSU in the UAAP back in 2005, back when they still held the games at the UP Gym. Expect the usual at the gym, no proper ventilation and with limited capacity to leave audiences in insta-sweat. I used to watch with other family members of my sister’s teammates plus a few friends. Yes, I was also like you avidly cheering for my favorite team at the games.

In 2009, I had my turn to join the UAAP. I suddenly saw a difference.

The locations relocated to bigger, air-conditioned places like the San Juan Arena, even the storied Big Dome, and later the much-hyped-for-the-right-reasons MoA Arena. I saw fans from other schools, other parts of Manila, and all over the Philippines suddenly taking an interest in watching and following their favorite schools. More people made the effort to travel and watch the games live. Different television stations—apart from our home network ABS-CBN—started covering the games as well. It was in 2012 when we played at the Araneta Coliseum and MoA Arena. I remember feeling so giddy to step into the court for the first time, to actually play for thousands of people cheering—and sometimes booing! The fans took a huge part of an athlete’s life. I took in the attention--both positive and negative--that volleyball brought into my life. It only made me stronger and more confident dealing with the pressure of living under the watchful eye of the public. There was no feeling in the world more exhilarating than in front of a mad mob. Perform well, I often told myself. Live up to all those expectations. Win.

With the popularity of social media and how heavily integrated it is in our lifestyle, it’s no surprise that the current season’s volleyball stars have experienced an increased, more encompassing level of fanaticism. The spotlight has been hot on the volleybelles who have come after us, from Ateneo’s Alyssa Valdez to DLSU’s Mika Reyes. This season, we have three more of these young volleybelles—DLSU Lady Spikers middle hitter and Season 78 Finals MVP Kianna Dy, Ateneo Lady Eagles middle blocker and two-time champ Bea de Leon, and UP Lady Maroons’ first ever Rookie of the Year Isa Molde. Not only are they accomplished key players of their respective teams, they are also crowd favorites.

For the likes, messages, and tags they’d receive everyday on social media, it would be a struggle browsing through each of these girls’ notifications. I could only imagine their life having to deal with over-expressive fans online…

Then again, a pro career is the ultimate goal of every hardworking, strong-willed athlete. It has never been about the likes or follows, or the endorsements. If at all, these are just our best perks. A chance to continue playing the sport that you love and at the same time make a career and a living out of it—this will always be endgame…

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The author is the editor-in-chief of UAAP Magazine. Follow him writer on Twitter and Instagram.

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