She turns 23 today (January 30). What an opportune moment to share with you readers about this young lady from Bacolod who continually changes the landscape of volleyball in her own unique way.
Just a few weeks ago, Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles fans all gasped in horror as the unthinkable unfolded before their eyes on national television: Fille Cainglet gets injured.
I covered her early matches in the Shakey's V-League in 2008. She was coming into the program with four other freshmen that fellow broadcaster Mozzy Ravena and I referred to as the “Fab Five” of Ateneo—stealing a term applied to Michigan's 1991 group of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. The Lady Eagles version had celebrated setter Jamenea Ferrer (Hope Christian High School), centers Aillysse Nacachi (Canossa Academy) and Gretchen Ho (Immaculate Conception Academy) and open-hitters Angeline Gervacio and the aforementioned Cainglet, both from St. Scholastica's College-Manila.
To be honest, the first of the five that immediately registered in my memory was Ferrer because I had always felt that Ateneo needed to find a setter that can surpass former captain Karla Bello's abilities. Ferrer instantly showed that she would be a great facilitator and the Lady Eagles would definitely be better with her in the roster.
Also, Ferrer was setting to veteran hitters Kara Acevedo, Bea Pascual and the inimitable Charo Soriano when Cainglet and company made their V-League debuts, so Ferrer's initial successes were remarkable. However, by the Lady Eagles third game or so, I started noticing that there was something exceptional about Cainglet that I even started pertaining to her as an anomaly: “How can someone so lean generate so much power and jump that high?” That was the rhetorical question I recall when she started her slow climb of domination.
Ateneo had already been known as the “crowd darlings” of the V-League, but the entry of the youngsters added a mystique that drew a new legion of viewers; one that would watch the evolution of these newbies and eventually witness how volleyball would forever change in the Philippines.
Cainglet was the breath of fresh air a new generation of volleyball fans yearned for. Names like Soriano, FEU's Rachel Anne Daquis, DLSU's Manilla Santos and UP's Jed Montero combined attractiveness and unabashed skill and since televised volleyball was on the upswing, many people installed them as the ambassadresses of the sport. But once their collegiate eligibility ran out—or in the case of Montero a career shift to show business—the fans looked for new heroes, and among them emerged Cainglet.
“Fille is French for 'daughter' or 'young girl', Merced was the name of my grandmother and the 'Saint' was inserted to make it sound awesome,” Cainglet explains in a 2011 interview I did on her for UAAP Magazine. That statement alone immediately gave readers an insight into the personality of the then Ateneo captain and how her real-world character showed up on and off the court.
“I started playing volleyball when I was in the fifth grade,” Cainglet recounted in a recent informal chat I had with her. “I eventually got into the St. Scho varsity and played ever since.”
“It was great to still be with Jem (Ferrer) and Dzi (Gervacio) entering college,” Cainglet says. “The transition was a lot easier.”
One of her life goals coming in was to become instrumental in making volleyball bigger.
“Ever since I could remember, I always wanted to help the sport get noticed,” she explains. “I'm really happy that volleyball is getting noticed more and more. I really want to help the sport grow any way I can.”
Well, I believe she's done it.
Many wondered if there would be a new batch of saviors for the sport after the legacy of Soriano and company. Cainglet leads that charge today.
“Fille Cainglet is the best combination of beauty and skills,” one female fan noted. “Everything seems so effortless for her and that's why I always make sure to watch her play.”
“After Fille scores a point, she acts as if nothing happened,” a volleyball statistician observed. “She'll just smile or do her small dance, hug her teammates and continue. Parang, wala lang (like it's just nothing).”
“She's got the girl-next-door looks and she plays like she's always under a spell,” a male fan noted. “Many of us have a crush on her! I know I do."
She has definitely helped elevate the stature of volleyball in the country. Her ambition is also to carry that globally.
“I've always wanted to play volleyball abroad,” she confides. “I got to play in Korea recently (in a beach volleyball tournament), but I wish I was a little taller so I can go on doing this for as long as I can.”
At 5'5”, Cainglet may not be an intimidating sight at first glance, but she was seventh ranked in scoring in the UAAP after the first round and once she comes back to full health, she will continue piling up more points for the Lady Eagles. For now, her height doesn't really matter. She still dominates. But at the end of the day, a crown for Ateneo is her main objective.
“I really want to win a championship in the UAAP. This is my last year. I want to win it for the school and for all the people who have supported us from the start,” she says.
Fille recently graduated with a degree in Psychology and is dead set on finishing her Masters in Business Administration and intends to join the corporate workforce after she completes her studies, but still can't see herself away from volleyball.
“I'm still young and I still want to do so much,” she adds. “I wish I could play volleyball forever.”
1. Her nickname is “Che-Che”.
2. Her older sister, Fille Claudine (a.k.a Din-Din) played varsity basketball for UP. Both Cainglets started in basketball, but “Che-Che” migrated to volleyball because her friends played it more.
3. The sprain she suffered against DLSU a few weeks back was her first major injury—ever. It was also the first time she had ever missed a volleyball game due to an injury.
4. She holds campus at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in Rockwell, Makati—the only member of the team to do so. The team practices at Loyola Heights in the morning then she shuttles to Makati everyday. She then returns to the main campus after her last class at night to stay with the rest of the team at the dorm. Her car is color blue.
Happy birthday, Fille! From all of us at Yahoo Sports Philippines!
Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @NoelZarate
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.