When you first meet Melissa Gohing, a few things reveal nearly everything you need to know about her. First, she will shake your hand, but not with the dainty politeness that you might expect of her petite frame. Instead, you’ll be met with a strong, brisk grasp. Then your eyes will meet hers as she smiles for pleasantries, and you see in her soft features a girl-next-door quality—gentle, modest, accomodating. You’ve only just met, but already you get a glimpse of two disparate sides: one that’s classically feminine, and the other a more commanding presence—no doubt the athlete in her.
“It started with the rivalry,” she says when I ask about how women’s volleyball arrived at where it is today. Melissa, who you might know best as a libero for the De La Salle Lady Spikers from 2008 to 2013, is talking specifically about her UAAP career. “Season 73 is when it started,” she recalls, mentioning her team’s three consecutive trips to the finals, all against the Ateneo Lady Blue Spikers. But she doesn’t take a tone of contempt or regret—she says it matter-of-factly and even fondly, as if only to acknowledge their rivalry as a reason that the sport has seen a surge of popularity over the last few years.
If you haven’t kept a close eye on the games lately, it would seem very sudden that women’s volleyball acquired the mainstream following it has today. More prominent television coverage, more athletes and teams with billboards and television commercials, more rabid fans on social media. It isn’t difficult to see that women’s volleyball has also risen to prominence because of players like her, who are every bit as beautiful as they are excellent. She begins to acknowledge this, albeit bashfully, when she speaks of her teammates. “Pang-beauty queen kasi sila! I don’t know why—’yung mga teammates ko, ang gaganda and ang tatangkad nila. I think that’s part of why volleyball is so big now.”
But you’d be remiss to watch the game just to see pretty players like Melissa. “We were trained not to lose,” she declares emphatically. Once again, there is that bold, impassioned athlete—the libero on the court, lunging, tumbling, jumping, and doing absolutely everything to keep the ball from hitting the ground. “You need that mentality. In volleyball, we say magpakamatay ka sa bola—die for the ball. We dive, we roll, and we go to the benches just to get the ball.” It’s that kind of vigilant defense that saw her through four La Salle championships out of her five years in the UAAP, eventually earning her a place among the Philips Gold Lady Slammers in the Philippine Super Liga, where she will play in June.
There’s an interesting dichotomy between the Melissa we see playing volleyball and the Melissa outside the game (she maintains a blog where she talks about her other interests and preoccupations: fashion, beauty, fitness, and travel). It’s hard to guess that this sweet-natured girl is the same one who catches fire on the court, reaching, roaring, and breaking into tears of triumph after winning a game. And yet, she is. It’s perhaps because to Melissa, “Who you are outside the court reflects on your game,” she says. To her, volleyball and life are very much alike. “Life is a game, and you always have to play like it’s your last. Live like it’s your last. No regrets.” So if there’s a reason why she gets to be at once an athlete and a young woman; a libero and a beauty enthusiast; a champion and an intrepid traveler; it’s because Melissa Gohing leaves everything on the court.
Rachel Daquis walked into our photo shoot with the same captivating aura of a supermodel celebrity. She stands at a whopping five feet and ten inches tall, and smiles genuinely, like a small-town girl. But every female athlete has one or two butch attributes that give them away; for Rachel, it was the subtle arch in her back, and the quips about how she ate two cups of rice that day (she wouldn’t stop apologizing about her full stomach, even if in her two-piece, you’d never be able to tell).
In the same way that she is modest about her body, she seems never satisfied with her own talent, despite her steady rise to volleyball fame: from high school varsity team, to FEU the Tamaraws team captaincy, all the way to the 2015 Southeast Asian Games—her drive to be the best remains unshaken. Today, she plays for the RC Cola-Army Troopers in several Asian tournaments. She is a glowing force on the court, and already made heads turn at an early stage. She won her first award as Best Server during her second year in the UAAP league, and bagged many more titles after that. But the humblebee that she is refuses to take credit for any of them. “Hindi ako kuntento sa kung ano yung talento ko. Gusto ko lalong lumakas ako. Gusto ko pang umangat. Wala sa’kin yung award,” says Rachel. She throws a self-aware joke about the first time she received an award, “Ay siguro dahil nagagandahan lang sila sa’kin.”
But she isn’t always an athlete either. Outside the court, she walks the ramp for fashion designers, poses for photo shoots, and appears in TV commercials. She has a spot in FHM’s Top 10 Sexiest list for 2015, the lone athlete among showbiz names. Holding this torch, she sees this as a sign of how people are now starting to define “sexy” as figures that are also “athletic.”
If there’s anything that’s unclear to Rachel in her foreseeable future, it’s her love life. She admits she’s not the dating type and believes the time will come for a boyfriend when it is right. When I asked her what she would like to know about men, she replies, “Gusto ko malaman kung meron pa bang lalaki ngayon na katulad nung old school times, na ang date is picnic. Ang date is, parang, wala, sakay lang kayo sa pickup. Nakahiga lang kayo, stargazing...kahit dyan lang kayo sa park, ang saya nyo na. Tapos magkukuwentuhan kayo ng buhay nyo. Yung hindi siya mahihiyang ikwento yung naranasan niya.” Rachel longs for romance, and she deserves it. She has never had a real suitor because she feels she intimidates men. And how could they not be? She’s almost too good to be true.
This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Esquire Philippines.