V-LEAGUE DIARIES: TOP CALIBER PHILIPPINE VOLLEYBALL SETTERS
We all know that volleyball is a game of sport consisting of players who wear their own roles for the successful performance of the team. The sport really has taken us to great heights and expectations as many have fancied, reviewed, and even became obsessed with. From significant dominant spikers to aggressive middle blockers, we cannot overlook the significance of the playmaker of the team, the captain-in-charge of the offensive plays—the setter!
Far from passing the ball to their hitters to cast ferocious killer spikes, they are the ones who run for great plays, in charge of controlling the game, and ultimately responsible for the offense. Fairly, setters, sometimes, get overlooked because they are the ones who manage to make their hitters look good. But as the old saying goes “behind every great hitter is a great setter,” it comes to no surprise, setters are the real deal of a good offense—the playmakers and the ‘brain’ of the team.
Writer’s Note: With the first-ever professional season of Premier Volleyball League fast approaching, let’s dive into stories that not only made up the dream volleyball league (hopefully) but also an anecdote of why we love the sport. Here, we go through the high-skilled setters that the country has seen over the years.
First on our list is arguably the most popular generation of setters, Kim Fajardo. Back in her glorious UAAP days, Fajardo became one of the prominent setters in the amateur-collegiate league as she was part of the three title-winning team of the De LaSalle Lady Spikers where she was named team captain in her last two seasons. In her five years in the UAAP, she has earned several accolades composed of three times UAAP Best Setter, Best Server award, and Season 78 Beach Volleyball “Most Valuable Player”.
The 5-foot-8 Fajardo paved her way to the 2008 Asian Youth Girls Volleyball Championship wherein they finished in 8th place then represented the Philippines in the 2016 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship. After graduating, she joined F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in PSL under coach-icon Ramil De Jesus, where she was awarded best setter for 2017-2018 Grand Prix, 2018 Invitational Cup, and 2018 All-Filipino Conference.
Who does the job of setting better than Jia Morado? Famous for her JIAmazing plays, Julia “Jia” Morado was undeniably one of the best setters in this generation and has the most picturesque actions in local volleyball. No one could ever forget Ateneo’s unbelievable championship was steered also by her talent. Though Ateneo Blue Eagles have Alyssa Valdez as their main gun, we can’t deny the mastery of navigation and control of Jia.
She bested her LaSalle rival Kim Fajardo for the best setter award way back in 2015 where she helmed the Lady Eagles with two championship titles. Then, Jia joined Creamline Cool Smashers in the first season of PVL. Across 3 of its seasons, Morado has copped five Best Setter awards, including three Finals MVP awards. In her international stint, she became the setter of the Philippine team for the 2015 Asian Women’s U23 Volleyball Championship, and in the 2015 & 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
For her, Jia doesn’t really mind being the dominant player and nabbing individual awards as she was very resilient and focused on having a fluid and effective team action in the court. We can all remember her saying upon receiving the Finals MVP Award in PVL 2018 Conference, “Mas na-feel ko yung championship talaga, bonus na lang yung individual awards talaga forever. Yung championship naman talaga ‘yung goal.”
A living testament that setters can also seize individual awards, Rhea Katrina Dimaculangan is no ordinary playmaker. The 5-foot-7 Rhea was significant to the UST Golden Tigresses’ historic “Grand Slam”, winning the major Philippine collegiate women’s volleyball conferences that include Shakey’s V-League Season 6 1st Conference and 2nd Conference, the 2009 University Games, and UAAP Season 72 where she claimed the best server award and the Final’s Most Valuable Player title.
During her Shakey’s V-League stint, Rhea was crowned as the Final’s Most Valuable Player, and Best Setter in its Season 6 & 11 Open Conference. The former UST Tigress made names also in PSL, as she won the best setter award for several seasons and the MVP plum in 2018. Rhea first steered RC Cola Air Force Raiders to a silver medal finish, then later on she helped the Foton Tornadoes to a silver medal as well, and lastly dawning the Petron Blaze Spikers where they won the championships title in the 2018 Grand Prix Conference.
Versatile playmaker Alohi Robins-Hardy had many Filipino volleyball fanatics raring to be included in the national team. It is highly unthinkable to have a 6-foot-3 setter being positioned in front of the net alongside 6’2” Kalei Mau, 6’6″ Jaja Santiago, 6’2″ Din-Din Santiago-Manabat, and 6’0″ Majoy Baron. Alohi didn’t take long for her to dazzle volleyball crowds in the Philippines when she played for the now-defunct Cocolife Asset Managers then eventually signed with the Cignal HD Spikers.
In the 2019 All-Filipino Conference, Alohi managed to steer Cignal with few adjustments, with Jovelyn Gonza’s return from a two-year hiatus due to an ACL injury, and somehow crawl their way to a finals appearance where she hailed as best setter after an unlikely upset of the defending champs Petron in the semifinals. The Fil-American was expected to represent the country at the last 2019 SEA Games but unfortunately had troubles due to passport issues.
An Army corporal and a legendary playmaker, Tina Salak had a colorful journey throughout his career as a volleyball legend. The 5-foot-11 setter holds three Southeast Asian Games medals – a silver medal in the 1995 Chang Mai Games, a bronze in the 1997 Jakarta SEA Games and a bronze medal finish in the 2005 Manila SEA Games. Also, she steered FEU to a back-to-back champion team in the UAAP (1994-1995), two titles in Shakey’s V-League (Season 8 Second Conference and Season 11 Second Conference), and four titles in the PSL with the Lady Troopers.
The evergreen Salak also has individual awards that include Best Blocker in 2013 PSL Conference, Best Setter in Shakey’s V-League 9th season, and the first-ever setter hailed as MVP in the 2014 PSL All-Filipino Conference.
After 25 long years of being a veteran setter, Salak decided to hang her jersey at the age of 40. Though a legend and prime setter of the country, Salak wanted to have a quiet exit but was very thankful for the fruitful years, saying “For me napaka-thankful ko kasi, alam niyo kung bakit? Naabutan ko ang best of both worlds eh, so from the time na 90’s, 80’s then ngayon millennial na very thankful na ako doon.”
It is a cliche that most setters would feel better awarded as a team rather than individually but they always and for sure deserve our respect, attention, and credit. Now with the new generation setters, the Filipinos are truly gifted with many potentially great setters who can face head-to-head with the ‘big ones’ out there.