MANILA, Philippines－ They weren’t staples of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) powerhouse Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, but Michelle Strizak and Krystal Rivers felt right at home playing in Philippine shores.
Both were instrumental in the Lady Warriors’ reinforced conference title run, and they got the badges to prove so－ Strizak with the Best Import plum, and Rivers with the Best Player of the Game citation in the winner-take-all Game 3.
Top seed Bali Pure Water Defenders refused to pave an easy way out for Pocari when they equalized the Finals series with a thrilling 25-15, 26-24, 24-26, 24-26, 15-13 victory in Game 2.
But in the end, the Lady Warriors’ firepower proved too much for Bali Pure, and it was import Rivers who was at the forefront of the won battle.
She may or may not decide to come back and play for Pocari again, but Strizak’s name will forever be penned on the books as the league-best scorer－ that is, until someone manages to break her record-setting feat of 40 points in a single match.
The 6-foot-1 outside hitter beat out Alyssa Valdez’ 39-point performance with the Bureau of Customs last year, and went for 40 in the Lady Warriors’ unfortunate defeat against the Philippine Air Force in the team’s last elimination round match.
The Ohio native’s accomplishment was just one of the many memories she will be bringing back home, the others were snippets of the bright and colorful volleyball world we have out here in Manila.
“It’s awesome, I mean, the whole entire experience has been amazing,” Strizak told Rappler. “We don’t get that [kind of volleyball] everywhere.”
“With everyone being so supportive, everyone’s really dedicated to the sport and I’m just really happy to be a part of it.”
Strizak, who was named to the US Girls’ Youth National Training Team in 2010, already has her near future neatly planned out, but says her door will always be open when an opportunity to play in Manila again arises.
“I actually signed a contract with a team in Switzerland already,” revealed Strizak.
“But definitely in the future, I would consider coming back here. I love my experience so much.”
Short and sweet
To put it quite frankly, Rivers’ ride in the inaugural league conference was a short yet sweet one. The Alabama volleyball star only got to play 3 matches, in the finals no less, due to International Transfer Certificate (ITC) woes that prevented her from suiting up in the earlier rounds.
Coming into the game, Rivers had a puzzle to figure out – playing with a new team right away, finding chemistry with teammates, and even adjusting to a new setter. Turns out the transition would be a smooth one, and she got valuable help from her welcoming teammates in getting settled in.
The 5-foot-11 hitter delivered a team-high 27 markers in Pocari’s championship-clinching triumph, and scored no less than 20 in her debut performance with the Lady Warriors.
“It took me a little bit to get settled, but the team has been great,” said Rivers, who was a replacement reinforcement after Bosnian Edina Selimovic got injured midway through the tourney. “There’s a great team culture.”
“They really welcomed me in, so that played a huge part in getting settled in and being able to play well with them.”
Rivers can now add "PVL Champion" to the growing list of achievements of her young career, but in reality, she has already won the biggest championship – winning over the Big C.
In 2014, the American spiker was diagnosed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Her competitiveness shined through her attitude in dealing with this particular life battle. Rivers, even at Stage III, wasn’t going to let cancer win. She attended classes and continued to practice with her volleyball team in between sessions of chemotherapy.
It was her relentless spirit that pushed Rivers through the end of the tunnel, where no lymphomas nor cancer can attempt to bring her down.
“I kind of thought of it in the matter of the old cliché phrase, you know, ‘Life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ but some days the lemonade was really bitter,” Rivers shared in a conversation with Tuscaloosa News. “Although some days it was sweet, some days it was really bitter. But I mean, I just had to get through it.”
Three years later, Rivers has found herself halfway across the globe – still playing the sport she loves and casually kicking opponents (cancer included) in the butt.
Like her fellow import, Rivers plans to continue building her volley career by getting as much experience as possible, but won’t have her lines shut if asked to play in Manila again.
For now, however, the Alabama spiker still wants to relish the mementos brought about by her overseas stint.
“It’s been great. The fans’ support, how nice I’ve been welcomed here by everybody, it’s been a great experience for me.”
“Coming in, the goal was to win a championship. I really wanted to win, and so to be able to win a championship with the team, it was great. It was all worth it,” she closed. －Rappler.com