As the sun sets over the University of San Agustin Gymnasium in Iloilo, the atmosphere is electric. Volleyball fans from all over the region have gathered to watch Creamline Cool Smashers take on Akari in the final elimination round of the All-Filipino Conference. But there's one group of supporters who have travelled further than anyone else, and they're here for one player: Jema Galanza.
Members of JG Community International, a fan club with almost 2,000 members, have made the long journey from Manila to Iloilo to show their support for the former PVL Most Valuable Player. For them, it's not just about the volleyball – it's about the friendships they've built through their shared love of the sport, and the role that Galanza has played in bringing them together.
"We're here to support Jema, but it's also a way of showing our appreciation for everything she's done for our group," says Edz Franco, one of the moderators of JG Community International. "She's been a bridge that's brought us all closer together, and we wanted to come here and show her how much we care."
Galanza missed Creamline's previous game against Army-Black Mamba, but she's back on the court for this crucial match against Akari. As the players take to the court, the JG Community International members are on their feet, cheering their hearts out. They've brought banners and flags, and they're making as much noise as they can.
For Galanza, it's a massive boost. She knows that she's not just playing for her team, but for the fans who have travelled all this way to support her. And as the game progresses, it's clear that their support is making a difference. Galanza is playing with confidence and passion, and the rest of the Cool Smashers are feeding off her energy.
In the end, Creamline secures the top seed with a hard-fought victory over Akari. But for the JG Community International members, the result isn't the most important thing. They're just happy to have been here, to have shown their support for Galanza and her team, and to have strengthened the bonds of friendship that brought them together in the first place.
"Jema, we're so proud of you," says Franco, as the JG Community International members prepare to make the long journey back to Manila. "Whatever happens in the next game, or the game after that, or the game after that, we'll always be here for you. You're not just a great volleyball player, you're a great friend."