Ernestine Tiamzon conquers Manila, pursues volleyball dream

By Jenine Sanchez of the Philippine Journal – Vancouver, Canada

Volleyball is one of the fastest rising sports in the Philippines right now. Supporters literally flock to the stadiums to watch teams play each game. They bring banners, tarpaulins, balloons, you name it. Fans even wait outside the arena just to get a glimpse of the players, hoping to see them up close, to meet them. It’s an extraordinary event to witness.

Moscrop Secondary School alum Ernestine Tiamzon shares her experiences in moving halfway around the world to chase a dream, her volleyball dream.

Growing up in Canada, Ernestine “Tin” Tiamzon was a bubbly girl who liked to draw, read, and play other sports such as basketball and badminton. In high school she focused on balancing her studies and being an athlete. Upon realizing her love for the sport, high school coach Kim Or convinced her to take on club volleyball, saying that if she wanted to really excel she’d have to push herself harder and join a club team. Tin is grateful that her coach even looked for an organization to help her play. Coach Kim has been coaching volleyball since 1988. His two sons also play volleyball as liberos, a defensive position.

In high school she met a lot of friends; it’s where she met her high school best friend. She was happy living a normal life. Her parents were very supportive of her playing volleyball. They emphasized on humility, quoting them, “No matter how much you think you’re successful, always keep your feet on the ground.”

Honing her craft while juggling high school volleyball and club volleyball, it was only a matter of time when colleges took notice of Tin’s undeniable talent. There were schools recruiting her to play for them both in Canada and in the Philippines, but one offer stood out. It was from De La Salle University in Manila. Her sister Erika also played for La Salle back in 2005 where the team won a championship in the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines), and back-to-back championships in Shakey’s V-League in 2005 and 2006. Tin also met Sir Bong Domdom, president of the DLSU alumni community in Vancouver, who encouraged her to play for the Green and White La Salle team. She fondly calls him‘Tito Bong’.

At first, Tin was hesitant because she didn’t want to be away from her family in Canada, but she saw the offer as an opportunity to help them, and to learn to be more independent. She flew to the Philippines last July to start her incredible journey.

La Salle is one of the most praised schools in the Philippines, so she weren’t worried about the quality of the education at all. She tells, “What inspired me to move to the Philippines is to play the sport I love everyday”. It’s because volleyball has taught her so much that she wanted to give back to the volleyball community as much as she can. She smiled wistfully, remembering one of the memorable things her high school coach has said.

“Without Coach Kim and Tito Bong, I wouldn’t be able to come here [Philippines] and play.” Tin stated, expressing her gratitude.

Tin got her first taste of a championship in only her rookie year courtesy of the recently concluded UAAP beach volleyball tournament. She is also a part of history now as this is the first beach volleyball championship of DLSU.

She was really excited when she got called to be a member of the three-man team for DLSU beach volley. She wasn’t expecting to play beach volley alongside indoor volleyball, but her coach said that as long as she has experience in the sand, she can play.

In a way, Tin was thrust into the spotlight in the Philippine volleyball scene even before she went to the Philippines. Some of the avid supporters of La Salle knew about her already back when she were still finishing her senior year of high school. She was surprised, “I knew coming here that volleyball is becoming bigger, but I didn’t realize that it was this huge already!”

Even more recently, she participated in the UNIGAMES, a yearly sports tournament for universities in the Philippines.Held in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Tin gladly divulged some details of the trip. “UNIGAMES was good for me because I saw the level of play of some schools we’re going to play against this coming UAAP.” The tournament showed her a taste of college volleyball and how potential rivals in the UAAP fared.Apart from enjoying the food in the City of Smiles, Tin relished showing her brand of volleyball; her personality on the court. “Back in high school, my coach relied on me to lead the team. This time, I’ll be the one to learn from my senior teammates. It was a good experience because as a rookie, I got to show my potential, and what I can give while I’m on the court. Di pa yunyungtodokonglaro(I haven’t hit my ceiling yet, in terms of my level of play),” she followed with, “It was nerve-wracking, but okay at the same time because at least I got it done and over with, hopefully in the coming UAAP I can do even better”.

When asked about her transition from being a Moscrop Panther to being a DLSU Lady Spiker, she says she’s still adjusting. “I think this whole year I’ll be adjusting.” Tin clarified. “My high school coach was more on giving instructions and then guiding you “hands-on” without being too vocal, whereas Coach Ramil is very vocal in coaching. Both good coaches with different styles, I like both styles. I like coaches who push me to my potential and encourage me to be better.”

“The main difference of volleyball in Canada versus in the Philippines?The blockers!” Tin shared, laughing while explaining, “Here [Manila] it’s mostly defense and fast paced play, In Canada they focus more on the power since it was high school volleyball.” She was asked what style of play she preferred, “Flexible namanako,” (I’m flexible and can adapt quickly).

She likes Coach Ramil de Jesus’ style of coaching. Tin revealed, “He’s very hands-on and you’ll feel the motivation coming from him. He keeps us grounded, and teaches us to always keep in mind that there are a lot of people who support us, and the least we can do is to give back to them.”

On how it feels being a Lady Spiker and wearing the La Salle jersey, “I feel blessed and honored that out of all the people they’ve chosen, they chose to bet their money on me. Nakaka-boost ng confidence kasisalahatngnakitani coach [na players], isakasamganapilinamakasalisa team. One of the top volleyball coaches in the Philippines saw potential in you, so you really have to show them what you’ve got.” She admits that she feels pressure sometimes, but says that it’s the good kind of pressure. She wants to prove to her peers that she has what it takes.

Her stay in the Philippines so far is nothing short of enjoyable. Tin is taking up Business Management and is having fun studying in La Salle. She shares while laughing, “Wiling wiliakodito, especially watching movies because they’re super cheap!” She recollects the time she spent watching movies with some of her new teammates. When asked about her favorite part being in Manila though, Tin said it’s thrilling because there’s a little bit of independence. Back in Canada, her mom will cook food for her, but now that she’s in Manila, she learned to not only be more independent but to manage her own money as well.

Her favorite part of being a Lady Spiker is simply the team itself. She shared that the first time she met the team, she realized that they really have each other’s backs, like they’re a really tight knit family. She loves that she’s playing for one of the best volleyball coaches in the Philippines, and representing one the best universities in the country too. And to be able to play for the school where her sister Erika went to before was also a bonus.

Tin admitted that she misses Vancouver, especially her family. She misses the clean air, nature, and how laidback Vancouver is. Whenever she feels homesick, she just goes on Facetime like any other teenager. “Thank God for Facetime!” she says excitedly.   Fortunately for Tin, she doesn’t have to feel homesick all of the time because she has family in Manila too. She currently has relatives just right across the street from where she’s staying, which is great for her so she’s not completely alone. This coming Christmas season, she’s also going to visit some family in Cotabato, in fact Tin already booked a flight to stay there for the holidays.

The volleyball scene in the Philippines, according to Tin: “I like it. I’m glad that my ate was one of the people who helped the sports’ growth in the Philippines.” she added, “There are a lot of talented players in here, thanks to UAAP, PSL (Philippine Super Liga), and other leagues that provide exposure to volleyball players.”

Tin also wants to inspire other Filipinos in Canada to pursue a volleyball career in the Philippines. She ends the very fun interview with a message, “If you want to have an adventure while you’re still young, and you’re not afraid to move to a different country, Philippines is very welcoming! And if you feel like you can be independent, and not be homesick, then come play here. The tuition is not as expensive, you get almost the same education, and people will support you.”

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