Eight thousand one hundred forty-eight miles.
That is the exact distance from Manila to Illinois, the hometown of Lindsay Marie Stalzer, two-time Philippine Superliga Grand Prix Champion, former league Most Valuable Player, and a major player for 14 teams from around the world, as she prepares for her fourth go-around in the PSL for Petron Blaze. There is always something exciting whenever she visits a new city to play, but Manila is different. There’s something about Manila that makes her feel like she isn’t so far away.
The clouds hide the sun on this Friday afternoon – making the journey along Meralco Avenue more chill as Lindsay looks at the familiar sights in Manila. People are still hustling to catch a ride, jeepneys with art along the side still have “sabit” passengers, small crowds surround the fishball vendors by a sidestreet. But she sees something new: a new mall housing a restaurant that should hit the spot right after a morning of weight training. “I need my ramen fix today!”
Lindsay never gets tired of Manila – flaws of the city and all. There is something familiar about the culture. There is something special about the people. There is always something new to see and experience. And there is always the game of volleyball, which has allowed her to fly high around the world and always feel at home.
Fun and familiar
“All my friends keep saying ‘I’m so jealous of your life!’”
It always looks like a never-ending long weekend every time the right-side hitter is in Manila. Team dinners, food trips around the city, and post-season beach trips adorn her Instagram feed. The Philippines, for Lindsay, is the country that will never stop wowing her. “Last year I finally got to go to Coron. That place is just so beautiful and picturesque, I got to enjoy the beach and go kayaking, it was really amazing.” Her amazement ranges from the warmth of the fans, to the delicious food (she enjoys Pancit), and bursts in laughter when talking about the fact that fast food places in Manila have delivery. “Ariel and I were so amazed last year when we saw that McDonald’s here has delivery! She and I were all ‘Uh-oh, this could be trouble!’”
Filipino volleyball fans line up to wait for her after games to have their pictures taken, and to shower her with small gifts, like last year’s hit StalSher shirts (she formed a fabulously fun friendship with fellow Foton reinforcement Ariel Usher). “It’s more fun here! That’s the biggest thing for me. A lot of times in the past when I’m faced with the decision of re-signing with a team or not, I always get really nervous because I like to move around… For some reason I don’t have that feeling coming back here. I was excited to come back, meet new people, and new experiences and still know that warm Filipino culture that keeps me coming back.”
The country showers her with this type of affection because of what she’s done on the court. Since donning the red and white of the Cignal HD Spikers, Lindsay has won fans over with her power-smashing spikes and scoring binges. In her second stint in the PSL, she joined the Foton Tornadoes, forming a tall and talented trio with fellow American Katie Messing and Jaja Santiago, whom she pushed to become an even deadlier scorer and better all-around player en route to their first franchise title. The following year, Lindsay returned to join Ariel Usher and a deep Foton Tornadoes team to defend their Grand Prix Championship against the Petron Blaze Spikers for the second straight year, that resulted in an emotional win with Lindsay scoring the championship point with a service ace. Fans also saw Lindsay become emotional as Foton celebrated. “I really love that team. I was emotional because we accomplished our goal which was to win back-to-back chmapionships, and we did it together. Lots of times you set a goal that high and then come up short. We set our goal high, and it was fun to win with people that you love.”
This season, she joins the Petron Blaze Spikers, already a deadly team with Mika Reyes, Sisi Rondina, and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas. “I’m excited because this is something new. I’m always up for new experiences.”
While talking about Manila, Lindsay lights up when talking about the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship, a historic six days for Philippine volleyball at the Mall of Asia Arena. While PSL – F2 Logistics Manila finished last, they did win a set against the defending champions, Eczacıbaşı VitrA. “Did you see that set we won? Someone sent me a video and it was crazy to see the entire stadium just erupt cheering for us! It gives me goosebumps every time.”
It was also the experience playing for the all-star PSL selection that Lindsay had the chance to get to know the other ladies better. “Rachel Daquis is just a gem, such a genuine person. Mika Reyes is awesome too! I just love them all.”
She always touches base with her former teammates turned good friends every time she’s in the country. “Ivy (Perez) is soooo funny, always cracking jokes with me, also Maika Ortiz, Rhea, from my first year there’s Jheck (Dionela), who is the sweetest! All the girls are just so sweet!” She also beams with pride and joy when talking about Jaja Santiago. “Jaja is such a great, talented player. She has so much potential. Jaja can be world-class.”
For a girl with rich experiences from around the world, she admits that there is one tangible thing that she always brings back home to Illinois after every world volleyball stop: “One of my fave things to bring back is my jersey! I’ve got a nice collection of jerseys at home already.” For her, these jerseys are a daily reminder of how blessed she has been, both as a volleyball player and as a person, to have gone to so many places, met so many people, competed against the world’s best, and to still be doing it to this day. “I value the relationships that I develop every time I play anywhere, especially here in the Philippines. Definitely the lessons, I learn something new every time, whether it’s a volleyball skill or life lesson.”
When the 2017 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix opens its doors on Oct. 21, Lindsay welcomes the new challenge of becoming a leader for the Petron Blaze Spikers. She has won some the league’s highest accolades already, as a Best Outside Spiker, Most Valuable Player, and a two-time champion. The colors she will be wearing may have changed, but the goal remains the same. “I always want to help my team become the best. It’s all about being the best you can be, so that the team can be the best it can be.”
“I want to be remembered as someone who helped her team become the best, by helping bring out the best in my teammates.”
Lindsay is looking forward to bonding more with her new teammates, seeing new beaches and sampling new Filipino delicacies, and achieving new goals as a Petron Blaze Spiker. But on this Friday afternoon, she just wants to enjoy the familiar. The busy streets of the metro. The art along the sides of stainless steel jeepneys with “sabit” passengers. The spicy Red King ramen. The sweetness of her Green Tea Cream Frappuccino. She might be thousands of miles away from Illinois, but Manila, flaws and all, will always make her feel at home.