By now, a week after Game 2 of the UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball Finals, the euphoria brought by La Salle’s mad dash to the finish line may have died down a little.
After all, outpacing and turning back rival Ateneo this year meant more to the Lady Spikers and all the people behind their success than just a regular race to collegiate volleyball supremacy.
Aside from the 2017 crown being head coach Ramil de Jesus and La Salle’’s 10th title in the UAAP, skipper Kim Fajardo’s last minute decision to play her last year of eligibility made the stakes a lot higher for everyone on the green side of things.
But now that all the hard work and sacrifices have paid off for the Taft crew, it is time to transition into what will be a post-Fajardo era where new leaders, new role players and new names are expected to emerge to help keep La Salle’s winning tradition burning amidst the tough challenges it faces every year.
One thing de Jesus can rely on to remain constant in the years to come, however, long after the likes of Kim Dy, Majoy Baron, Dawn Macandili and Des Cheng are done donning their green and white jerseys, is the presence of the long-time utility man he and his wards love to call ‘Kuya Resty’ Ortega.
“19 years na ako kay coach Ramil (de Jesus). Medyo bago pa lang siya sa La Salle pumasok na ako. Nag apply ako sa OSD for utility,” Ortega, who was already done loading the team’s water jugs and volleyball equipment into La Salle’s mini bus while the team bask in the glory of victory, told FOX Sports.
“Hindi lang naman ako sa women’s volleyball naka-assign. Ang priority ko, women’s and men’s volleyball tsaka men’s and women’s basketball,” he added. “Kung walang sabay, halimbawa ‘yung football walang conflict sa schedule, napupuntahan ko din.”
For the sport’s casual fans, it is easy to miss the presence of Ortega especially in the middle of the intense action on-court and the thousands of fans who show up to watch live especially during big games.
Yet for the past and present set of the Lady Spikers, Kuya Resty will always be the warm smile buried deep in La Salle’s loaded bench during a point or a reassuring presence as they head into the dugout after a loss.
In fact, after almost two decades of being with the team, Ortega has become way more than the guy who does errands for the legendary La Salle coach.
Talking about de Jesus, Ortega shares: “Hindi lang kami basta magka-trabaho. Sobra pa siya sa kaibigan. Sabay kami pumasok sa La Salle eh. Malaki na naitulong niyan sa akin. Nagbibigay ‘yan palagi sa akin ng payong kaibigan.”
At this point of de Jesus’s celebrated career as the architect behind La Salle’s volleyball program, fans have heard one too many times from players, peers and pundits what makes the coach one of the best—if not the best—in the country.
However, no one could back up and defend de Jesus’s work ethic more than Ortega who has witnessed how the now-powerhouse squad was built from scratch with the coach’s blood, sweat, and tears as its foundation.
Like a proud brother, Ortega says: “Disiplina sa team, ‘yun ang meron siya. Madisiplina siya sa mga players. ‘Yun ang dahilan bakit okay siya.”
“At nagiging tatay din siya sa mga players lalo na pag out of town,” he added. “‘Yung mga bata bago matulog kinakausap muna niya. Madalas ang pinag-uusapan tungkol sa volleyball. Sinasabi niya: ‘Pumunta tayo dito hindi para mag lakwatsa. Pumunta tayo dito para sa liga.’”
And while his heart broke every time marquee names like Manilla Santos, Paneng Mercado, Cha Cruz, Mika Reyes, Ara Galang and Kim Fajardo bid the team adieu, Ortega, just like the avid supporters of La Salle, simply cannot imagine a life away from the team that has become his second family.
“Ako, masaya na ako dito sa trabaho ko sa La Salle. Nage-enjoy naman ako lalo na sa mga players. Mababait naman ang mga players sa akin. Hindi ko ma-imagine ang buhay ko na hindi ito ang ginagawa ko,” he said with his shy smile.
Everything changes, yes, but if Kuya Resty could help it, he will be on the sidelines for La Salle to provide de Jesus—and his wards—support on his way to becoming the greatest of all time.