Make way for Cebu’s newest volleyball star

By: Jonas N. Panerio April 02,2016 - 10:29 PM


Gretchel Soltones finds a hole in the tight defense put up by Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Tina Salak during their V-League match. (Inquirer)

It’s high noon. The humidity is so thick you can’t possibly cut through it with a chef’s knife. Employees from IT companies inside the Cebu IT Park are milling about, absentmindedly passing by one of the country’s most talented volleyball player — Gretchel Soltones — who has graciously agreed to sit down and break bread with Cebu Daily News.

Accompanied by her doting father, Marvin, and some friends, Soltones has come all the way from Catmon to share her journey from the sleepy fishing town to Pajo National High School and eventually, San Sebastian College where she currently stands as Queen Stag and queen of the NCAA’s volleyball hierarchy.

But first, she has more pressing matters on her mind. With a healthy spread of pizza and chicken wings before her, Soltones turned the tables around and threw the first question: “Do we have rice?”

Amusing the anecdote may be but it lends credence to an age-old adage which we paraphrase: You can take the Cebuana out of Cebu but you can’t take Cebu out of the Cebuana.

And this is exactly where we find Soltones: Two-time NCAA MVP, Philippine national team member and arguably the country’s finest volleyball player not named Alyssa Valdez who is firmly rooted and reflective of her humble beginnings.

“I never expected to become a two-time MVP. Every time I step foot on the floor, I don’t think of anything else other than executing what coach Roger (Gorayeb) asks of me. And I want to do just that because I don’t want to waste the time he has invested in making me a better player,” Soltones said in Cebuano.

Through every step of her journey, Soltones has been blessed with amazing mentors. Her father was her first and he shared the many tales of their early morning training sessions at the beach front which taught his daughter the value of hard work at an early age. Then in elementary, Soltones was brought along by Vilma

Veloso, Catmon’s loving yet fiery volleyball mentor.

“In elementary, the training is not made for kids. It was very hard. Coach Vilma (Veloso) did not think of us as kids,” Soltones said. She eventually made her way to Lapu-Lapu where she was trained by Fr. Rolando T. Manayon.


“My time under Fr. Manayon was a very important time in my life. I learned a lot about playing the right way. And he was more than just my coach. He helped me out a lot especially since we didn’t have much at that time,” she said.

Not long after, Soltones caught the eye of Gorayeb, the multi-titled head coach who has helped groom the careers of volleyball queens such as Valdez and the Santiago siblings, Jaja and Dindin. Soltones narrated that making the switch to the big city proved to be more difficult than she expected.

“It was very hard for me because my father wasn’t there anymore. All my life, I was used to having him around me. When I got to the dorm, I was all by myself. There were many nights that I called him and cried myself to sleep.”

Racked with homesickness, Soltones vented her frustrations out on the hardcourt which in turn, transformed her from an unknown prospect to one of the most hard-hitting attackers today.

“Coach Roger pushed me to play smart and play with heart. And I think I can say with confidence that I’ve improved a lot when I got to Manila.”


Soltones’s power play gained her fans and accolades alike. But more importantly, it got her what she wanted the most: a reunion with her estranged mother, Marilyn.

“When I got to Manila, there were only two things that I wanted. One was to become a better player, and two, I wanted to meet my mother.”

Soltones’s parents separated when she was just in Grade 3, leaving a gaping hole in her heart that only a mother’s love can fill. And though she appreciates all that her father has done for her, she still just wanted to know her mother. That moment came during the NCAA finals earlier this year.

“I’ve longed for her for so long and all I ever wanted was to see her,” she said.

With that entry on her bucket list checked, Soltones is now determined to bring the title to the Recto-based school especially after the Lady Stags’ painful and shocking loss to St. Benilde in the finals.

“We lacked maturity and heart. We’re a young team and it showed. I had my own faults. Especially as team captain, I should be the one to lead them. But I was too eager to win and I struggled as well,” Soltones said.

Now, Soltones is itching to lead the Lady Stags to the crown that so painfully eluded them this year. And she’ll be doing it with the same giddy disposition, wide smile and a Cebuana vibe that largely define this undisputed star of the volleyball court.

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TAGS: Cebu IT Park, Gretchel Soltones

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