Exactly two days after her final spike as a member of the De La Salle University Lady Spikers, Ara Galang is back in Taft Avenue, Manila. Already up at five in the morning to jump in the same bus, which takes her team to their games, only this time, it was for a different reason. Ara and the rest of her team were headed somewhere in Quezon City to partake in various TV appearances in recognition of their most recent Championship.
Hailing from Angeles City, Pampanga, Ara first got involved in Sports when she was a fifth grader, volleyball however, was not her first choice, “dapat basketball talaga ako, pero walang pang girls pero meron naman sports club na volleyball so trinry lang namin ng mga friends ko. Tapos kami na din composition ng varsity namin nun kasi dun din sila kumukuha sa sports club”. Ara then went on to say that as a kid, she did not even think she owned a volleyball ball but remembers that she owned a basketball.
It was through her Angeles University Foundation varsity team where Lady Spikers headcoach, Ramil De Jesus first got a glimpse of Ara, “hindi naman talaga recruit pero nakausap ko siya. Parang third year high school ako nun, pero hindi pa talaga recruit. Siguro yung coaches ko lang naguusap nun, pero hindi naman nila ako agad talaga kinukuha. Na-eye lang”.
Ara admitted that La Salle was not really her first choice as she looked up to the likes of Mary Jean Balse, Venus Bernal, and Angeli Tabaquero of University of Sto. Tomas (UST), “Nung una kasi wala akong plans mag collegiate volleyball pero nagkaroon ng opportunity so pinagisipan ko. Hindi naman ako kinkuha ng UST, La Salle kinukuha ako” says Ara “may iba rin kumukuha pero La Salle yung pinili ko. Kung hindi ako kinuha ng La Salle, mag tatryout ako dapat nun sa UST”.
She then jokingly said that she picked La Salle because she knew the players of the team because DLSU was the team who always went up against UST during those years but then said that she wanted the good education La Salle offers, “Syempre La Salle pinili ko. Unang una sa education. Kahit hindi ko pa iniisip yung maglalaro ako ng volleyball. And kasi alam ko na yung composition ng team na yun kasi yun yung kalaban ng UST e! Feeling ko lahat talaga destined”.
First of many
November 27, 2011. UAAP Season 74’s opening weekend. La Salle vs Adamson, with the score at 6-4 in favor of La Salle, Ara stepped behind the service line for the very first time, jumped, pulled back her right hand, and swung it with just enough power for the ball to make it across the net, but with enough spin for it to suddenly drop. It was an ace. Ara’s first ever point in the UAAP, yet she showed no emotion. Not even a small crack in her lips to indicate a possible smile. “Nasa personality ko narin siguro yung tahimik lang. Ganun talaga ako, pero I think ngayon sa pagtapos ko, feeling ko nabago ko yung mood na ganun. Kasi alam ko na kailangan ko yung may emotion at alam ko yun yung hinihingi ng team”.
In the same year, Ara also brought home two individual awards, Rookie of the Year and Best server, “sobrang nakaka-overwhelm. Kung may cloud nine, cloud 10 yun. Nene days ko pa yun kaya wow, hindi ko maimagine na nagawa ko yun. Siguro dahil sa hardwork na din yun”.
A taste of glory
Ara considers her first ever UAAP Championship as her most memorable moment of her entire UAAP career, “siguro dahil ang sarap sarap sa feeling ng rookie ka tapos champion agad. Kaya kapag tinanong ako kung ano most memorable sa akin, yun talaga naaalala ko agad”.
The year after, Ara was given the Most Valuable Player award together with her former teammate, Abigail Maraño. It is one of the most prestigious individual awards an athlete can receive but Ara simply smiled when reminded of this and said, “siguro nag peak lang talaga ko nung time na yun”.
The Lady Spikers also won the UAAP Championship in Season 75 to complete a three-peat, Ara’s second UAAP Championship.
UAAP Season 76 was a tough year. It was the year where the Lady Spikers were aiming for their fourth straight Championship. A feat no other volleyball team has accomplished in the Final Four era. DLSU swept the elimination rounds to gain a thrice-to-beat advantage come the Finals but succumbed to the Ateneo Lady Eagles in four games.
It was during this year and the next where some eyes started to focus on the rivalry between Ara and Ateneo Lady Eagle, Alyssa Valdez. Not only due to the graduation of former captain Aby Maraño and Ateneo’s “Fab Five” (Ho, Cainglet, Gervacio, Nacachi, Ferrer), but simply because both Ara and Alyssa started to become the leaders of their respective teams not only when it comes to scoring but in all aspects.
Ara however, does not have much to say about this so-called rivalry with Alyssa, “hindi ko alam. Wala akong maisip. Para sakin hindi ko siya masaydong naiisip kahit madaming tumitingin sa amin as ganun (rivals). Hindi kasi ako tumitingin ng isa isa lang. Yung mindset ko buong team”.
When it comes to her team’s rivalry with the Lady Eagles, Ara admits that there is added motivation every time they play against Ateneo, “labanan din yun ng pride and ng puso. Kumbaga sabi nga wala na dun yung skills e. Yung kung papaano ka nalang maglalaro, kung gaano mo kagusto, yun nalang yung labanan. Hindi na yung kung sino mas magaling sa ganito, patibayan nalang”.
Worst fear realized
Every single supporter of the Lady Spikers will forever remember UAAP Season 77 for one thing; Ara Galang’s Season-ending injury.
It was game two of DLSU’s Final Four matchup against National University. Unfamiliar territory would be an understatement. The Lady Spikers had their backs against the wall and Ara as the team captain, wanted to lead her team to victory. La Salle was already ahead two sets to one, and leading 22-20 in the fourth set. Just three points away and Ara will have her shot to get back at Ateneo for beating her team the prior year. Last three points.
It was a long rally and as ara went up to hit the ball, her supporters already up on their feet anticipating Ara to finish that rally with one of her famous emphatic spikes. She got the point, her 25th of the match. People went into frenzy. Then all of a sudden, all eyes focused on Ara. She was on the floor clutching her left knee writhing in pain. It was as if the air from the Arena was sucked out and everyone was simply holding his or her breath waiting for La Salle’s captain to get back up. Instead, a stretcher was brought in and Ara was lifted away from the court, back in the locker room. La Salle went on to win the match and earn a seat in the Finals. No one wearing green however, could completely celebrate the victory.
“Nung na-injure ako kasi parang masakit lang kasi naghanda ako for one year and medyo one step closer na ko sa goal namin tapos isang iglap lang, wala na. Wala na ko magagawa”. Narrates Ara “Motivation nalang mabibigay ko sa teammates ko nun kasi wala na akong magagawa inside the court. Sinasabi ko nalang sakanila pag may nakikita akong dapat ayusin. Puro salita nalang”.
Looking back at what could have been had she not been injured and had played in the Finals, Ara believes that although she is not sure if they would’ve won the Championship, she was certain that things would not be the same, “hindi ko rin masasabi pero isa lang ang sure dun, may magbabago dun. Hindi ko din sasabihin na mananalo kami. Kahit wala ako may tiwala ako na kaya nila (teammates) pero hindi lang enough. Pero ginawa nila best nila”.
Getting back up after a season-ending injury is not easy. It requires ample time and the changes in the UAAP calendar indeed helped fulfill Ara’s desire to play for La Salle this Season, “after ng injury actually parang agad inisip ko kung aabot ako pero nag move yung calendar, so yun naging advantage sakin yun. Nakabuti sakin yun kasi humaba yung time ng recovery ko”.
Ara recovered completely before UAAP Season 78 started. Her eyes were set on her comeback and another shot at a Championship.
Back in the Finals once more. One last shot at a Championship. One more, one last, for the Green and White. Of course, she did not disappoint.
“Ito yung pinaka masarap na Championship, kasi yung first two championships namin, hindi naman sa madali pero ngayon kasi madaming ups and downs. Minsan magdoudoubt ka pero hindi kasi parang aangat parin tiwala mo sa team. Sabi rin ni coach, mas masarap mag champion dahil sa pinagdaanan namin. Sa lahat ng sacrifices, lahat ng trials and challenges na dumaan sa team”.
Ara scored a total of 31 total points in the three games of the Finals, not a bad number at all but for Ara, she did not reach the form she wished to achieve for this Season, “honestly hindi ko na abot yung peak for me, pero kasi tinitingnan ko yung bigger picture syempre hindi ko iniiisip para sa sarili ko lang. Basta alam ko sa sarili ko na nakaka contribute ako at nakakatulong ako kahit papano sa team” says Ara “and nakuha naman namin yung goal namin sa team. For me sobra sobrang nalagpasan ko pa yung ine-aim ko kasi nakuha namin yung goal”.
In the post-game interview, Coach Ramil said that the win is for the seniors of the team but most especially for Ara. She has not watched the replay of the game and was not aware of what her coach said. When told about this, Ara paused for a while and asked “talaga? Sinabi niya yun?”. She then got a bit teary-eyed, “Ngayon ko lang nalaman, sobrang natouch tuloy ako”. She said “Kasi bawat isa naman samin may iba iba kaming pinaghuhugatan pero may common denominator din kami, pare-pareho yung gusto namin. Pare-pareho naman kaming nahirapan, nag tetrain din sila. Yung iba lang yung paghihirap ko sa therapy and strengthening pero for me, equal lang sa aming lahat. Para saming lahat talaga yun”.
Through the eyes of the crowd
Through the eyes of the league
“Kianna (Dy)” was Ara’s quick response as to who she feels will fill the void she will leave in the team, “sa nangyari this season nagpakita talaga si kianna pero naniniwala ako na lahat kaya mag step up. Dadarating yung time sa kanila. Sa ngayon si kianna pero alam ko may iba pang aangat”.
As of the moment, Ara still has no concrete plans for the future. She is still undecided if she will go right back to playing volleyall, “pinagiisipan ko pa if maglalaro na ako kaagad, pero if may opportunity naman pwede naman pagisipan. Kasi may isa pa akong term sa acads so gusto ko muna i-prioritize yun, mag focus sa last term ko para at least maka graduate na ko para mas madami na akong pwede gawin”
Staying involved with the Lady Spikers is something that Ara is also considering, “kung mabibigyan ako ng opportunity, kung aalukin ako, pwede ko naman pagisipan lalo na kung sila naman kasama ko. Matagal ko sila nakasama and kilala ko sila so mas okay yun. Parang may advantage agad sa akin yun”.
After five years, Ara deems her team and routine as what she will miss most about playing in the UAAP, “Overall yung teammates ko pinaka mamimiss ko. Yung buong team, yung coaches mamimis ko yung preparation. Training syempre mahaba yan. Hindi naman yan maglalaro ka lang sa Season, syempre buong year yan. Yung buong five years ko tinrain ko, so daily routine ko mamimiss ko”.
When Ara looks back at her journey and what inspired her to become the player she is today, her team, family, and friends are all part of the list but she gives emphasis on her supporters, “yung supporters na laging nandyan kahit na hindi ako naglalaro, kahit injured ako parang nandyan parin sila lagi. Syempre parang sino ba mawawalan ng gana kung ang daming sumpsuporta sayo tapos ikaw hahayaan mo nalang? Parang pag nakikita ko na madaming naniniwala sakin dun ako nagkatiwala sa sarili ko”.
Asked how she wants to be remembered, Ara says, “yung hindi nagigive up. Yung kahit ano mangyari, makakabangon, kahit anong instances”.
Note: Special thanks to Flavius Dulce and the DLSU Sports photographers for the photos