MANILA, Philippines – Over two years since she last played in the Philippines, Iris Tolenada is back – and this time, she will be suiting up for an up-and-coming team in Motolite.
The last time that Tolenada competed in the Philippines, she was the starting setter of a powerhouse Pocari Sweat team that won the Reinforced and Open Conference titles in the 2016 edition of the Shakey's V-League.
Since then, she has focused on being a coach for her alma mater, San Francisco State University, as well as a local high school club.
"Coaching just keeps me busy all the time," Tolenado said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. "You know, as a coach in general, you overthink things. But as a head coach, you're just like, you lose so much sleep, just thinking of like, 'Gosh, how do I get my team better.' All these stuff."
"So yeah, and then, university coaching is just a different ballpark of responsibility. A lot more strategy, planning, doing the whole recruiting thing. So I'm just like, I'm an energizer bunny, I just have to keep going," she added.
But the itch to play never went away, and Tolenada still found time to compete even as she gained experience as a coach.
"I was actually lucky enough to play with both of the teams I coach, so when they need a practice player. I'd go to open gyms, I competed in some adult tournaments. So I just pick up a volleyball and go play," she explained.
That mentality has led her back to the Philippines, where Tolenada will make a comeback in the 2019 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference.
"It's great," she said. "I just have a different mindset, and you know, as I get older, I'm understanding that life's too short, and you just gotta play while you can, and have fun and enjoy."
"The Philippines is great. I have friends here, I have family here, so it's a great feeling, and I get to learn more about my culture, which is great," she added.
Tolenada will reunite with her former Pocari teammate Myla Pablo, whom she calls "a great teammate and a great leader." The pressure is on the two veterans to anchor Motolite, which fell well short of expectations during the recently concluded Reinforced Conference.
Expected to be among the contenders in the tournament, Motolite mustered just three wins against seven losses, and finished in fifth place. Pablo, still recovering from a nagging back injury, struggled to be effective, and their younger players were woefully inconsistent.
For Tolenada, taking charge of a young team is a challenge that she fully embraces.
"I kinda like the underdog vibes, because you know, in my teams before, when I played in the university, my team was an underdog team," she said.
"And it was like, really rewarding for us to just keep getting better every day and then eventually become one of the top teams in our conference back then. So, the underdog vibe is just me," she added.
Tolenada's signing has increased the hype around Motolite, and along with it, the expectations. In the Reinforced Conference, they struggled to live up to those expectations, but with a healthier Pablo and Tolenada around, the team is more optimistic.
"I have confidence in myself, my teammates have been so great with me, working with me, and so have my coaches. So it's gonna be a big push, and you know, this team is a little bit older by a couple of months, so we're excited to see what happens," said the setter.
"My expectation is that, we're just gonna keep getting better, and we gotta take it moment by moment, game by game. And, we're hoping for the best, and we're definitely coming in fighting," Tolenada also said.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.