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VOLLEY OF TALENT

The national women’s volleyball team are our best ever. We learn their travel secrets

MADELEINE ENSOR MEETS THE PHILIPPINES’ MOST SUCCESSFUL WOMEN’S BEACH VOLLEYBALL TEAM IN HONG KONG

Heidi Ilustre and Diane Pascua are two of the leading women stars of a sport that is fast garnering attention around the world.

Such attention could be down to the beautiful beach setting, the gorgeous people the sport attracts, or the holiday feel that beach volleyball conjures up, but the fact that the National Filipino Women’s Volleyball Team is currently the best our country has ever had must play a big part. Although Heidi and Diane have only been playing together for two years they’ve been consistently proving themselves, winning a number of legs in the FIVB (the international federation of volleyball) World Tour 2007, including competitions in Turku (the Finland-Exhibition), Ohope Beach and Mount Maunganui (in New Zealand), qualifying for the World Draw in Phuket last November and coming seventh in Miami in the AVP Tour-2003-2007 in the USA – home of professional beach volleyball.

Right now, they’re focusing on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics and getting the training – and finances – to bring their dream to life.

HOW DID YOU START PLAYING FOR THE PHILIPPINES?
HEIDI: Jim Apelar brought us together.

He was recruiting for the South East Asian Games of 2006 and looking for FilAm (Filipino-American) players and approached me. I knew Diane was FilAm too so we got together.

WHY FILAMS?
DIANE: There isn’t the same volleyball culture in the Philippines. Players who have trained and lived in the US are more experienced. We have a few Filipinos that played in the South East Asian Games, but Jim wanted to recruit American trained players.

WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND?
D: My father is Filipino, my mother is German.

H: Both my parents are Filipino, born in the Philippines.

WHAT’S THE FAVORITE PLACE THAT YOU’VE PLAYED IN?
H: I loved Switzerland. We played in Straad recently and it was beautiful. Mountains and greenery… It was gorgeous.

D: We travel through Europe a lot and a few Asian places. I enjoyed Singapore, we stayed on Sentosa and it was very beautiful – especially in the new Amara resort. It was also the first event that we qualified for, so that made it all the more exciting.

DID YOU MANAGE TO SEE MUCH OFS SINGAPORE?
D: We took the tram right into a mall – Vivocity. That was pretty cool. We went to Chinatown as well. We missed Orchard Road though! People kept telling us to go there and we didn’t manage it – we were too busy.

WHEN VISITING A NEW CITY, WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU DO?
D: It sounds kind of lame, but we try to buy souvenirs of everywhere we’ve been which bears the name of the city. It might be patches, or a magnet. We always buy a souvenir.

H: And we go clothes shopping!

D: We also spend a lot of time in our hotel room on tours and take time out to relax. Traveling is expensive so we often have to stay in.

DO YOU ALWAYS BUY GUIDEBOOKS BEFORE VISITING A COUNTRY?
D: No. We should! We’re just so focused on playing! We find a good place for a massage, find our trainers… and we always tend to find Starbucks!

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE YOU BEEN TO SO FAR THIS YEAR?

BOTH: Let’s see. Singapore, Korea, Portugal, France, Spain, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Brazil, Hong Kong, the UK, the Philippines, Thailand and, of course, the US.

THAT’S 18 COUNTRIES! HOW DID YOU START?
D: I started playing beach volleyball six years ago when I was 24.

H: I started when I was 22, so that was seven years ago.

D: It started out as a family thing after church. We’d just play and mess around at the recreation ground. Then Heidi and I both played indoor volleyball in college. I played in the state of Washington and there’s no beach volleyball there! Then I moved to San Diego in southern California, which has loads of beach volleyball so I picked it up. It’s extremely different to indoor. You’re in the sun, running around with bare feet. Then with constructive criticism and training, I could see myself getting better.

H: I played indoor volleyball at the University of Hawaii. We played in local tournaments and always did well, and then I found out how much fun beach volleyball was. Winning tours was a good incentive to want to improve my game.

I had a partner in Hawaii and we played on the US tour. It’s a very friendly sport and all the players know each other. I met up with Diane on the US tour.

WHAT’S REQUIRED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL VOLLEYBALL PLAYER?
D: Determination, the ability to make quick decisions. You’ve got to be competitive. Being tall can help. Actually we’re not that tall. 5 foot 10 inches is the average height and most teams have one much taller player. That’s just the girls – the men are much taller!

WHAT ARE YOUR WINNING TACTICS?
D: Have a tough offense and keep in good spirits… We’ve got to have fun.

THE US HAS SO MANY GREAT SPORTING ROLE MODELS, HOW DOES THAT HELP YOU?
D: We’ve got the best to look up to. A lot of it is how we were raised. That affects the way we win, the way we lose, the way we travel! We’re both easy-going. the same clothes! Then we missed the connecting flight and stayed in a hostel in Finland. It’s what happens. It happens to everyone!

WHAT ARE YOUR BEST TIPS FOR COMFY TRAVEL?
H: Layer! Take a good book! Carry some good snacks too: trail mix, pretzels, granola bars, dried fruit and popcorn…

ARE YOU CAREFUL WITH YOUR DIET?
D: It’s difficult when you’re on the road as it’s hard to keep to a routine. We have to adapt to what we’re given. We always take advantage of the breakfasts in hotels, but in Europe some of the breakfasts are only coffee, bread and Nutella, so it’s not always ideal!

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL BREAKFAST?
H: Granola, yoghurt, fruit and good coffee.

CAN YOU EAT SWEETS AND CHOCOLATE?
D: We have to!

WHAT’S YOUR EXERCISE REGIME?
D: It’s more about getting ready for individual competitions. We plan for things. If we finish a tournament on a Friday, we’ll usually have another game on, say, a Tuesday. So over the weekend we’ll train, but we’ll also have to spend time traveling to get to the next destination and be ready by Monday.

HOW IS VOLLEYBALL PERCEIVED?
H:
The public impression of beach volleyball is improving. The 2004 Olympics helped, and it’s now shown on Fox Sports.

WHAT’S THE LONGEST YOU’VE BEEN AWAY FROM HOME?

D: We had two weeks away, a week back, then we went away again for two and a half months in the summer. It’s not just the family and friends, but it’s the comforts of home, having your own shower, your own bed, your own space…

ANY TIME FOR PERSONAL LIVES?
H: I’ve got a fiancé at home and it’s difficult to leave him behind! He traveled with us a bit this summer, but it’s not ideal. He had to arrange his own travel and it’s expensive.

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO BACK TO?
D: Phuket. We were there in October, but it was so hot, around 28°C with high humidity. There was so much to do though. If we went back I’d like to ride an elephant…

H: … hire a moped and explore…

D: … go on boat rides and snorkel…

H: … parasail.

DO YOU DIVE?
D: No. We can’t do everything!

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELVES INTERNATIONAL ATHLETES?
D: Yes. I describe myself as a professional volleyball player. But we have to have other incomes to supplement us when we’re not playing. We both coach young girls’ volleyball and are substitute teachers. That was our training, I’m a Phys Ed teacher.

H: And I taught pre-school before becoming a professional volleyball player.

OUT OF THE PLACES YOU’VE VISITED, WHAT THING WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO DO?
D: In Hong Kong I’d like to go up the peak and go shopping at ifc. Last time we stayed at the end of Canton Road so we were really near Ocean Terminal, an amazing mall for shopping!

Check out the website www.teamphilvb. com for news on their latest competitions.

HOW TO CATCH THEM IN APRIL AND MAY: DATES

HOW TO GET THERE

Flights to Hong Kong on Cebu Pacific go four times a day from Manila, six times a week from Cebu and four times a week from Davao

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