Jema Galanza Keeps Her Faith in Creamline Amid Adversity

Down But Never Out: Jema Galanza Keeps Her Faith in Creamline Amid Adversity

Creamline star Jema Galanza walks The GAME through the Cool Smashers’ dynamic, as well as the conference that pushed their backs against the wall. 

The Creamline Cool Smashers. 

Call them what you want: Creamline, CCS, the dominant darlings of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL)…or simply put, a super team. Just think Alyssa Valdez, Tots Carlos, Michele Gumabao, Bea de Leon, Denden Lazaro, and so many more Philippine volleyball stars all in the same color.

With those names, Creamline has won an unprecedented eight championships in what has become the country’s top-flight volleyball league. Most recently, the squad won the 2024 All-Filipino Conference, which effectively keeps their long-running dynasty alive. 

Well embedded in this superteam is none other than Jema Galanza, a Creamline star since 2018 who was the Finals MVP in their 2024 All-Filipino Conference run. And for her, being in a superteam is actually inspiring, given the quality of talent in her squad.

Ang dami kong natutunan sa kanila, actually. Pumasok naman din sila na magagaling, pero ‘nung nasama sila sa Creamline, mas nakita talaga kasi ‘yung galing nila tsaka ‘yung talento nila,” Galanza shared to The GAME in an exclusive interview. 

Sobrang nakaka-inspire lang, kaya parang everyday na nagti-training ako, nagwo-work hard talaga para siempre, mayroon tayong goal na gusto kong angatan ‘to, pero in a healthy way naman, she adds. 

It also helps that the Cool Smashers have proven leaders to manage an all-star squad. First and foremost, is their coaching staff led by Sherwin Meneses, who puts a premium on team play instead of opting for an “individual” centered system. 

Jema Galanza Creamline team photo

More than rallying Creamline’s stars together, Galanza also explained that such a philosophy ensures everyone will be on the same page once their number is called in-game. 

“So kung ano ‘yung laro ng Creamline, ‘yun din ‘yung lalaruin ng kabilang team [in our 6-on-6 practice]…kaya ‘pag game na, kung sino ‘yung gustong ipasok s’amin, hindi siya mawawala. Kasi pare-parehas lang kami ng plays, pare-parehas lang kami ng igagalaw,” she explains, highlighting their training vis-a-vis the team-based philosophy. 

Coaching and systems aside, Creamline also has an Ate Ly, or team captain Alyssa Valdez. Like a literal ate, Galanza shares Alyssa’s unique trait of knowing how to manage around 19 individual personalities on the Cool Smashers. 

There’s also the Phenom’s “personal” approach in addressing off-the-court issues. “So minsan, kunyare may mga thoughts siya na gusto sabihin sa’yo, lalapitan ka niya, kakamustahin ka niya, ganyan. So ganon lang, minsan personal talaga ‘yung way niya, kung paano siya mag-lead,” shares Galanza. 

And for Jema Galanza, having a set of proven leaders makes life easier for Creamline, which also serves as added motivation to buy into their culture. Being a firsthand witness, the outside spiker acknowledged the difficulties of a leadership role, especially in a squad like theirs. 

Dahil ganon sila kagaling mag-handle ng isang team, so ako, talagang gusto ko lang nakikinig nang mabuti kasi ready ako at gustong gusto ko na natututo nang bagong knowledge sa volleyball,” Galanza admits enthusiastically. 

‘May kaya pa ba kaming ilabas?’ 

But despite being a well-oiled and well-led machine, Creamline’s dynasty seemed to show cracks in the 2024 First All-Filipino Conference. For context, the Cool Smashers entered the semifinals with an 8-3 record, supposedly their worst showing in the PVL’s current format. 

And Jema Galanza, a Creamline veteran, admitted having her own doubts throughout the 2024 AFC. While she refuses to label it as Creamline’s “toughest” conference to date, it was also hard to overlook the three losses they suffered throughout the eliminations. 

“So kinukwestyon ko na rin ‘yung sarili ko, na may kaya pa ba kaming ilabas sa mga susunod pa naming laro? So ‘yun lang, parang may onting doubt lang na iaahon ba namin itong conference nang maganda?” she reflects. 

Making matters worse, Creamline entered the year on a high, having swept the 2023 Second All-Filipino Conference despite losing setter Jia Morado-de Guzman and middle blocker Ced Domingo to Japan and Thailand-based squads respectively.  

Jema Galanza Creamline Second AFC 2023

Galanza was first to admit that “lots of teams and players” improved over the offseason heading into the 2024 AFC, which resulted in a “very different” level of competition in the PVL. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for Creamline to temper their expectations. 

“So ‘yung mga losses, hindi namin ine-expect din. Kasi nga sobrang taas ng expectation namin dahil wala kaming talo last conference,” she said. 

But as the losses started coming, Jema and Creamline made it a point to remind each other that losing is part of the game, and that they were still human at the end of the day. 

Mayroon talaga kaming days na sobrang off, hindi na namin nafi-feel o naco-control ‘yung sarili namin. So nire-remind lang namin na okay lang ‘yun,” she says. 

More than the team, there was (again) coach Sherwin Meneses. As uncertainty loomed over the Cool Smashers, Galanza revealed that Meneses was their beacon of hope as he kept his faith in the dominant darlings’ capability. 

“Siya talaga ‘yung never namin nakita sa kanya na ‘ay mukhang hindi na natin kakayanin’, ‘yung ganon, wala kaming narinig. Wala kaming nakita sa reaction niya. Lagi lang siya nagpapakita samin sa morning and ginagawa lang namin ‘yung araw araw naming ginagawa,” she recalls.

On the taraflex, coach Sherwin’s faith also influenced Galanza’s own style of leadership. As a leader by example, she made it a point to always give her 100 percent in both Creamline’s games and their daily 6 AM training to show she was far from giving up. 

Kasi hindi ako vocal as a leader so ako, more on skills. So siguro kailangan madami akong points, mas nakakadepensa, alam mo ‘yun? And ‘yung energy kasi, as Creamline, kilala naman na ang mantra is ‘Happy? Happy!’,” Galanza explains. 

So ‘yung smile ko talaga sa loob ng court dapat hindi mawala. And ‘yun nga, relaxed and kailangan din may mga reminders sa teammates.” 

The roller-coaster ride continues 

As it was, Creamline squeaking into the Final Four was already concerning for a dynasty like them. Fears (if any) weren’t allayed either as they allowed Choco Mucho to snap the Cool Smashers’ 12-game streak against them. 

But for Jema Galanza at least, that loss never really shook her confidence ahead of a pivotal matchup against the Petro Gazz Angels. Even with their Finals hopes on the line, there was a certain calmness for Creamline’s outside spiker heading into that matchup.

Would it be a dogfight? Definitely. But would Creamline lose? No way. 

“So siguro, ‘yung ganong feeling lang kaya nailabas namin ‘yung laro namin…mas nailaban namin kasi grabe ‘yung, kung titignan mo ‘yung mga scores talaga two points lang talaga ‘yung lamang namin. Parang ‘yun ‘yung feeling ko na nag-champion na kami, kasi grabe talaga ‘yung struggle,” Galanza recalls. 

Come the Finals, the Cool Smashers would have a rematch versus Choco Mucho. While they had convincingly taken Game 1, Creamline had to dig deep in Game 2 as their sister team had opened up a 2-1 deficit in sets. 

Once again, Choco Mucho’s Dante Alinsunurin had made the necessary adjustments for his squad according to Galanza. Once again, it was back to square one for Creamline. 

Jema Galanza creamline - CCS vs CMFT

Pero kami, inonti-onti namin na talagang patience lang talaga kami sa bawa’t isa. Nailaban talaga namin itong Game 2, and ayun nga, medyo nagkaron pa nga ng problema si Toti [Carlos] pero thank you Toti nailaban mo hanggang dulo,” the outside spiker recalled. 

Kasi ‘pag dulo na talaga ng game, kasi Finals, pagod na din talaga. Ang labanan na lang talaga dun, pasensya tas kung sino may puso eh. So siguro ngayon, nakita nyo naman na nailabas namin ‘yung puso namin sa game na ‘yon.”

All’s well that ends well

While the 2024 AFC is no more special than their other championship runs, such a conference was filled with personal growth and learning for Jema Galanza.

Parang mas nasukat ko ‘yung kakayahan ko, and ‘yun nga, ‘yung mga pressure games, parang dun ko talaga chinallenge ‘yung sarili ko na eto ‘yung dapat ‘yung games na dapat mailabas ko ‘yung laro ko,” she said. 

On top of that, this adversity-filled run also gave Galanza her first Finals MVP and another Best Outside Spiker nod. But as a true champion, she’d rather have more titles instead of getting individual honors. 

That aside, Galanza was a witness to Creamline’s true dedication. Earlier, she recalled how everyone in the Cool Smashers would be so down, and would contemplate deeply after a loss this season. 

Particularly, the outside spiker recalled (by her estimates) their five-set loss against Petro Gazz, which guaranteed an uphill climb to the Final Four. At the time, Galanza revealed that literally everyone in the squad arrived at 6 AM practice sleepless. 

So sabi namin, ‘di ako nakatulog’, lahat kami ganon! Pero for me, parang magandang sign na nagiisip kami. Kasi alam namin sa bawa’t isa samin kaya kami ganon kasi ayaw namin sumuko,” explains Galanza. 

Jema galanza Creamline celebration

“So pumunta kami ng training uli, walang tulog, then ginawa namin ‘yung training namin nang 100 percent. So nag usap-usap lang kami…pero sinabi lang naman ni coach [Sherwin] na ‘yung mga pagkakamali namin sa loob ng court.” 

Then sinabi lang niya na ‘oh sige tapos na ‘yun, next game na tayo uli so dun na tayo mag-focus uli’. So babalik naman…kung makakalaban natin sila uli, babalikan na lang natin sila uli,” she recalls. 

More than herself and Creamline, Galanza also re-acknowledged the well-improved PVL competition. Gone are the days where players can “chill” in training, she said, and that any team on a good day, can be a legitimate threat to the league’s best squads. 

There’s also the rapidly growing support for Philippine volleyball, which Galanza describes as “nakakakilabot!”. In fact, she admits being shocked at audience turnouts even for non-Finals games. 

Sobrang happy lang na nakikilala na tayo and sana madami pa tayo ma-inspire pa na mga atleta din na alam mo ‘yun? Makapasok sa mga universities para mas lumakas pa and tumaas din ‘yung sistema ng volleyball natin,” the outside spiker said. 

Rest now, Alas later 

By the time this story is released, Jema Galanza and the rest of Creamline will be taking a much-needed breather in Europe. Unfortunately, the break means Galanza would be unable to be part of the first-ever squad under the Alas Pilipinas banner. 

But even as a spectator, Galanza couldn’t help but be happy for the current pool. After all, the current squad has length, she said, on top of high-level volleyball skills. 

And just like every Alas player, their ate Jema is excited to see these kids play with Jia Morado-de Guzman come the AVC tilt. 

“Alam naman natin si ate Jia maglaro. For sure mag-aano ‘yan, kumbaga…mayroon din competition sa bawa’t isa sa kanila na talagang ah eto kasi Ate Jia eh. Alam natin kung paano mapapaikot ni Ate Jia ‘yung mga tao,” she said, spoken like a true senior. 

Jema Galanza Creamline Alas

Despite that though, Jema Galanza was clear that she would be more than open to join Alas Pilipinas in future tilts. On top of repping the Philippines, national team play also provides tons of learning opportunities, she said. 

‘Yung AVC [2022 AVC Cup] namin, so ‘yung ganong klaseng game, dami kang matututnan talaga. So why not? Syempre gusto ko maglaro for the Philippines,” said Galanza.

But for now, we let Jema Galanza and the rest of Creamline take their minds off the taraflex, even if it’s just for a month or two before another conference buildup begins. 

“Ito talaga kasing conference na ‘to maliban sa physical namin na ano, pati ‘yung utak namin medyo talagang napalaban eh. So kailangan namin ipahinga ‘yung utak namin, alam mo ’yun? Makahinga hinga kami.” 

Images from the Premier Volleyball League. 

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