Returning Chery Tiggo coach Aaron Velez aims to make most of second chance

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Aaron Velez Chery Tiggo

Chery Tigo coach Aaron Velez. PVL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Coach Aaron Velez is determined to slay the ghost of his past as he vows not to waste the second chance given by Chery Tiggo in the 2023 Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference.

From steering the Crossovers to their first PVL championship in the 2021 Open Conference Ilocos Norte bubble, Velez failed to defend their throne and fell to eighth place in last year’s season-opening tournament.

After an underwhelming finish, Velez was given a different role as a team manager and was replaced by coach Clarence Esteban. But two conferences later, the former was reinstated as head coach and he has no plans of disappointing the management again.

“[Gagamitin ko] yung learnings ko from my experience in the [Open] Conference last year. Merong multong kailangan labanan. But at the same time masaya ko naman masasabi na I’m working on it and sa tulong ng team, I think, magagampanan ko naman ‘yung trabaho,”  said the returning coach in a video conference with reporters. 

(I will use my learnings from my experience in the Open Conference last year. There is a ghost that I have to slay but at the same time, I’m happy that I’m working on it with the help of my team and I think I will be able to fulfill my duty, this time.)

With the franchise giving him two roles, Velez, who is also serving as team manager, admitted that the team has high expectations but the pressure he is feeling only fuels him to do better.

“Of course, they expect me to showcase what I can do as a coach. Also, their trust and confidence in me to handle the two roles given to me, which is to be the team manager and the head coach,” Velez said in Filipino. “It’s really a blessing that they can see and they appreciate my capability and how I can fully put into work and action.”

“I don’t want to let the management down with their trust and belief that I can still redeem myself,” he added.

Chery Tiggo, led by MVP Mylene Paat, ended a two-tournament semifinal drought in the 2022 Reinforced Conference under Esteban, who turned them into a defensive team with Best Libero Buding Duremdes, their spikers, and even import Jelena Cvijovic displaying tremendous floor defense as well as middle blockers Cza Carandang and Roselle Baliton taking care of the front line.

Although the Crossovers returned to the semis, they yielded all their matches in the round, wounding up in fourth place of the season-ending conference.

Velez believes the team needs to focus on offense to surpass their previous finish and regain their lost glory in the All-Filipino, which starts on February 4 at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“The challenge now is to start strong and sustain that momentum until the end. We have proven that we got defensive skills. But this time, I want them to discover their capabilities offensively,” said the longtime Chery Tiggo coach, who has been with the team since 2018. “Last conference, our team was all about defense. We lacked offensive firepower. If we will be able to execute better offense, I think we will get better results.”

Chery Tiggo opens its campaign against Reinforced Conference runner-up Cignal on  February 7 at Philsports Arena, beginning life without Dindin Santiago-Manabat, who transferred to Akari.

Losing Manabat, who has been with the team for the past six years, was a big blow for the Crossovers. But Velez challenges their holdovers Paat, Shaya Adorador, EJ Laure, France Ronquillo, and May Luna as well as newcomer, Pauline Gaston to step up.

“Of course, who doesn’t want Dindin Santiago on their team? She’s a one-of-a-kind spiker, who can create her own offense for a team,” the coach said. “But because of certain reasons, it’s more of a challenge for the other players as they will have opportunities to build their own positions first and their names.”

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