Winning a championship in team sport is no accident — it is the result of strategy, hardwork, skills development, and a superior collective psyche that results in superior teamwork. The first factor — strategy — comes from coaching.
The Ateneo Lady Eagles women’s volleyball team won its first-ever University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) under the watch of rookie head coach, Anusorn Bundit, who is also the concurrent head coach of the under-16 women’s volleyball team of Thailand.
Of course, overcoming a thrice-to-beat disadvantage and winning all five do-or-die games is no accident, but it could be said that Ateneo’s appointment of the Thai coach, who is popular for his mantra “HeartStrong” and his trademark sideline dance, may have come accidentally.
Initially hired as consultant, he was named head coach with his contract covering only five months.
In fact, he had booked a flight to his homeland Bangkok last March 3 upon the insistence of the national team there. However, his players in Loyola did not allow that — they defeated the twice-to-beat National University on March 1.
In addition, he was supposed to be in Bangkok on the very day his Lady Eagles clinched their first UAAP championship: it was the 25th anniversary reunion of his high school batch.
But the Lady Eagles seem to want to derail his commitments in Thailand.
‘He wants to go home’
“Uwing-uwi na sya (he wants go home),” said Tony Boy Liao, the Lady Eagles team manager. “He has his schedule in Thailand fixed, but the girls, they just love to play, and they really love the man. They want him to stay for two more weeks.”
“And they compensated for his extended stay here by winning the championship,” he continued.
As for Bundit, he considers his coaching stint in Manila his most memorable.
“I’m happy, to see the crowd [of] 20,000, it’s happy here,” he said in a hoarse voice, declining to explicate his feelings as he was pointing to his strained throat.
According to Liao, the maximum crowd for a volleyball game in Bangkok is 10,000. “And that’s for the World Volleyball Grand Prix. Here, the crowd for a collegiate game is 20,000. It’s his first time to coach under such a big crowd.”
Liao also continued that he invited Bundit on a “consultancy basis,” as the Thai coach was supposed to be with the team for one-to-two months.
“Magaling sya sa mga bata (he is good in coaching younger players),” said Liao. “That’s his assignment in Thailand, coaching grassroots players. Our team is rebuilding, the veteran core from last year was gone and three rookies are included in our new core. So we want to develop them for us to be competitive this season as our target is to enter the Final Four.”
“But what he taught to the girls is something different. It’s a mix of fundamentals and motivation. So there, I offered him the head coaching job and a five-month contract that exceeded five months. In fact, he’ll be flying tomorrow (March 16),” explained Liao.
For the Lady Eagles, playing under Bundit is something life changing.
‘Magaan ang dating’
“Mas magaan ang dating. (The feeling is lighter),” said season best libero Denden Lazaro. “Yes, my body may have suffered a beating this season, but he makes the negative positive. The repetitive routines, the long hours in training, it all paid off even if we find it boring and time-consuming.
Then he taught us meditation. It unloaded the pressure of practice and competition and it made us happy despite the hardship. So even if we lost a lot of time in practice, winning the championship is the happiest moment in my life.”
“Minsan naiinis na kami sa kanya (sometimes we’re getting annoyed by him),” said Valdez in a previous interview, referring to Bundit’s “national team-style” of practice. “We’re student-athletes, not national team members. But the thing is, he has this aura of mystery and we keep on questioning why is he making us do the same things over and over and when we execute it in the game, our questions are answered. We became better players, and not only that, better persons.”
For rookie spiker Michelle Morente, playing under Bundit made her feel special.
“He makes everything positive that even if he criticizes me, it does not make me down,” she said in a previous interview. “His teachings are very effective and when he makes me realize my weaknesses, he’ll show his appreciation when I correct my mistakes. He wants me to play my best even if the opponent is stronger than me.”
And it all worked for her. Morente became the top scorer in Game One of the Finals, when Ateneo walloped La Salle in sets two to four after giving up the first set. In the finals, she emerged as the third leading scorer of the champion squad.
“Mich is the most special player in the team,” said Valdez. “She’s the earliest in practice and she would often practice in gym alone. Coach Tai personally gives her pointers and she’s the most eager in learning from him.”
And Bundit’s coaching philosophy was reflected in the Lady Eagles, as they won seven straight games when he returned from a short stint in Thailand–from Ateneo’s second-round win versus Adamson to their Game One win versus La Salle.
During those games, the Lady Eagles would just heartily share a laugh with him during 30-second timeouts. They were also seen to be meditating in three-minute timeouts between sets. This kind of demeanor made them mentally prepared for the games as the Lady Eagles seemed to be enjoying every moment of the competition, win or lose.
It is uncertain though if the Philippine volleyball world will see Bundit coach the Lady Eagles again. But one thing is for sure, he has stamped an indelible imprint in Philippine volleyball.
“Yes, one day, [the] Philippines will be great in volleyball,” Bundit, again pointing to his throat, said when asked if the Philippines will be a volleyball power in Southeast Asia.
“But I have to go home now,” he ended as he gave this writer a warm embrace.
On his way to the dugout, he carried his huge backpack which he always brings to the press room. Certainly, it contains a bag full of stories on his way to Bangkok.
FULL STORY: Ateneo ends La Salle’s volleyball dynasty
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