It was a Thursday and Chery Tiggo was about to unveil its newest members.
One by one, the players were asked to take the floor. Playmaker Gyzelle Sy was there, seasoned libero Jen Reyes was present as well as rising star Eya Laure, who was joining a small crowd in front that already has head coach Aaron Velez and team manager Diane Santiago, the elder sister of star players Dindin Manabat and Jaja Santiago.
Finally, a mysterious player showed up.
Her face may look familiar, but the fact that she’s donning Chery Tiggo’s colors is something new to local volleyball fans, who are used to seeing her rocking Cignal’s black and red.
As soon as she heard her name, Mylene Paat flashed a sheepish grin.
This is her first activity with her new team and she’s hoping that everything would turn out well, especially the reaction of thousands of volleyball fans who knew her as the hard-hitting opposite spiker for Cignal in the Philippine Superliga (PSL).
“I was really grateful because they waited for me,” said Paat, referring to the recruitment process where she moved from one contender to another in a bid to chase her first PSL crown.
“They really waited for me until I became free. They didn’t get tired. They still offered me a spot in their team.”
This is probably the first time for Paat to be seriously pursued.
Unlike other volleyball stars that were recruited as soon as they make their first spike, Paat flew under the radar and learned the game in a small town of Bani in Pangasinan when she was 16 years old.
Then, she enrolled at the University of Baguio and didn’t play her first competitive game until when she was already in second year college.
But in an intercollegiate meet where University of Baguio played against major programs like De La Salle University and University of Santo Tomas in 2013, her fate completely changed.
“Adamson (University) invited me to try my luck with the team,” Paat, the fifth in a brood of six, said in a previous interview.
“I knew I wasn’t the best or most talented player, but I always make sure that I’m the hardest working on the team. We are not rich that’s why I’m making a lot of sacrifices to help my family through volleyball.”
After her playing days in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Paat joined Cignal, where she blossomed from an oft-forgotten rotation player into a national team member.
And her star power shone even brighter in the international stage.
In the national women’s team’s first game against Hong Kong in the 18th Asian Games, Paat stole the thunder from star players like Alyssa Valdez and Santiago when she delivered clutch hits that towed the Filipinas to a straight-set win.
Her performance was so impressive that national team head coach Shaq Delos Santos gave her a spot in the regular rotation.
The following year, she was tapped anew to be part of the team that campaigned in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
More than that, an avalanche of offers came rushing in as the poor girl from the small town of Bani completely blossomed into a megastar.
That’s why it’s no surprising that Chery Tiggo pursued her.
The Crossovers are entering a new chapter in their franchise and there’s no better way to kick off their campaign by bringing in Paat to fill the void created by the absence of the Santiago sisters, who will be spending the first couple of months of the Grand Prix in Japan.
She said it’s the team’s unity and camaraderie that prompted her to join.
“When I first trained with them, I observed that they really take care of their players,” said Paat, adding that the management headed by team owner Rommel Sytin and his wife, Sandra, has been very hands on in managing the team.
“I like the bonding and camaraderie. Now, I’m planning to stay with them for a longer period of time.”
Paat said she would repay the Crossovers’ trust by playing her heart out, especially against the league’s heavyweights like Petron, F2 Logistics and her former team, Cignal.
“I will try my best to lead the team to victories,” said Paat, who is ready to embrace her new role as leader of the team.
“I’m ready to embrace my new role here in Chery. I hope my teammates will also be open in accepting my help.”
The press launch already came to a close and most of the players were already going their separate ways, but the smile on Paat’s face had yet to subside.
She looked happy and very fulfilled.
She found a new home.