The Game Changers
There is something enriching about being in a team, especially a team that is more like a family.
This family, TeamBuktu as we call ourselves, recently got the championship trophy for the women’s volleyball league in our barangay. TeamBuktu was a dark horse. We submitted our lineup, though a bit forced, on the day of the parade of colors. The members playing for TeamBuktu were a bunch of had-beens whose only freetime is a rest from house chores after a day in their places of work. So busy that one of our teammates was not able to see any coin toss at all.
There were seven teams in all. It was a single round robin with the two teams in highest standing being assured to play in the finals. One of those two was our team with a 5-1 on the score card.
On October 24, the championship game, three couldn’t make it. We were a team of 10 players. That left seven of us.
Our opponent had been practicing day in and day out. They had a trainer coach. They had 15 players, enough to last them five sets, if we win two mission impossible sets.
All seven of us took the half court and started warming up. The first few minutes before each game was our practice and warm up session rolled into one. That was also the time when we say our hellos and how-have-you-beens.
For the first time, someone stood in as our coach. We were thankful. Now we were seven players and a coach.
We lost the first set.
We thought there was no way we could win the game anyway. The other team was the one who gave us the 1 loss on our score card. Being in the championship was already a dream come true. Winning it would be dreaming for more. But hey, we said let’s get on with it. We’re already there. We’re in the Finals, so Play!
Our coach said, “Get the ball, give them back the ball, and enjoy the game!”
The second set was a game changer. Millet’s arm, weary from writing on the blackboard or wielding a pointing stick, hours before the game was a power server piling points after another. Osang, bleary-eyed from the night shift with barely a wink’s sleep, was still so adamant in blocking the ball and doing near-net saves. Rizel whose only been let go of measles was on her best receiving self. Grace had just came back from a party that she couldn’t miss but rode in a hurry to play for the win. Venis, quiet and alert in her stance never wavered a bit. And, Gigay who’s all too willing to give everything she got to show everyone she got game.
We won the second set, and the third.
During the fourth set, the other team was still fumbling. Somehow, the coordination that they were used to weakened that night. Players got switched, substituted, benched.
I was waiting for the ball to be set in play when the referee blew his whistle and called the team captains to his side. I was lost. I was the team captain and I didn’t even know what the whistle was for.
“I don’t want to hear any badmouthing from any of your supporters. Keep them at bay or I will call an end to this game.” Ah, the adrenalin that beset not only the players but those who cheered the teams on till the end.
We were ahead by almost a dozen points. One unforced error from the other team would end the game and declare us champions.
And it happened. Millet, gasping for breath muttered, “I’m tired, I want to go home!” did another one of her now infamous fast swerving underhand serves. She was sweaty exhausted. Her arms were botched red.
The ball wheezed past the net. The first receiver got the ball but was unable to pass it nicely for a good stop to her intended tosser. The tosser set it up a few inches above the net. Their spiker, heeled toward the ball, unsure, but took a stab at it. The ball barely made it across the net and dropped on their side of the court.
We won. There was little pandemonium. Most of those watching were rooting for the other team. Seeing the little crowd that jumped and shouted and cheered for us was invigorating to my ebbing energy.
TeamBuktu prevailed. Winning six out of the seven games was a feat for the bunch of us. Seven games and looking back, we were there to enjoy and support the league, not to grab the tallest and proudest trophy.
But we did.