Marnelli Dimzon, also known as ‘Let Dimzon’, is a former Philippine international footballer and coach. She is the current head coach of the FEU Lady Booters and the Philippine girl’s under-14 national team.
The first time I met Coach Marnelli “Let” Dimzon, 35, the players in the locker room whispered stories of her time with the women’s national football team. She had given birth via C-section and a few months later played in the Southeast Asian Games.? On this Sunday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I ask her about the years old locker room chatter and she confirms it.
“That was 2005,” she says. After giving birth in January, she started running again the following month, and by May was back on the national team. “The thing with me is when I set my mind to things I do them.” It is a line she repeats several times in the interview.
Coach Let, as she is mostly called these days, is the head coach of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Women’s Football Team. In the nearly 2 decades of existence of the women?s football tournament of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the Lady Tamaraws have emerged as the league’s most dominant side. As of last season, the Lady Tams have contested 12 of the 19 previous championships and have, in all, won 10 titles.
Under Coach Let, FEU has won 3 championships in a row and are looking to improve on that record coming in to UAAP Season 78.
In addition to being the mentor to the Tamaraws, Coach Let is also the head coach of the Under-14 Girls’ National Team. A team, like the Lady Tamaraws, she’s led to historic highs.
In 2014, the U-14 Girls squad reached the final of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Championships. It came as a surprise as the Philippines, in any age group, has never been known as a powerhouse in the region. En route to the finals, team Philippines defeated Singapore, Cambodia, and defending champions and hosts Vietnam. In the semis they squeezed past Myanmar 2-1, prior to losing to Thailand by the same margin in the final.
At the press conference that greeted the squad back home, Coach Let said the second place finish was ?unexpected? as the U-14 Girls only had a month to prepare, and placed fourth in the same tournament the year prior.
I asked Coach Let of her proudest coaching moment so far. Without skipping a beat she cites the U-14 Girls’ unlikely run to the ASEAN finals as her favorite moment.
“Of course, the one with the U-14, because it was a first. It was history, unlike with FEU where we?ve won a lot in the past.”
At this last bit, she laughs and qualifies her statement. “It?s a point of pride for me as coach and player that I don?t take lightly. I owe a lot to FEU?and it reflects in my work and dedication to the team. Without FEU I wouldn?t be where I am today.?
Without FEU, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Born to father Feliciano, a tricycle driver, and mother Zenaida, a food vendor, in Valenzuela City, Coach Let had her start in sports as a track and field athlete competing in middle distance.
“I started playing for FEU in 1998, in my second year in college,” recalls Coach Let. ?Before [that] I was in track and field from grade school until high school, then I started as a freshman for FEU for track and field. In my second year I transferred to football. Under Coach Plagata.”
Women’s football in the UAAP started as an official sport in school year 1997-1998. In Season 63, just the second edition of the event, FEU went against defending champions De La Salle University (DLSU) for the title. DLSU swept the elimination rounds to hold a twice-to-beat advantage coming into the finals.
In the finals of Season 63, DLSU were twice-to-beat and twice beaten, and Coach Let?then known to teammates as Marnelli “Letlet” Salvador?was given Most Valuable Player honors.
“It was always difficult to play against FEU since they had a lot of fast and experienced players,” shares Marielle Benitez, former DLSU stalwart and former women’s national team captain. “Coach Let was one of them. She was a fast player who could play in the center or on the wings. She could deliver crosses accurately [and] she was also one of the best headers?so we had to make sure we had someone defending her.”
Coach Let as a player for FEU in 2001.
Comparing the FEU program then and now, Coach Let says a lot has changed. We didn’t even have a field then. We?d used to rent or just go to Luneta [Park] to train. We didn?t have our own field, so for us it was a big challenge and a big achievement that we were able to win the championship without a regular field. What continued to motivate us then was our coach, Coach Plagata, and the experience of our players. We didn’t yet reach the grand slam then, but we prided ourselves in always fighting in the finals.
In 2013, FEU opened a brand-new artificial turf field in their Diliman campus in Quezon City. The following year, they achieved the feat of a back-to-back grand slam in football, defending their titles in the men’s, women’s and junior’s divisions in the UAAP. Much may have changed, but the school’s winning mentality has stayed the same.
Season 63 proved to be Coach Let’s last playing year in the UAAP. In 2002, in what was supposed to be her senior year, she admits to have failed a pre-requisite class that shifted her into her degree program’s new curriculum. The semester after failing math, she says, ?When I was set to enroll again, what had been 18 units became 56. So that?s when I dropped out.? It was this turn of events that led Coach Let to transition into coaching full-time.
“Coach Marlon Maro from the national team gave me a chance to coach grassroots and from there I worked the odd coaching jobs until I got into coaching club teams.”
Prior to becoming head coach of the FEU Women?s Football Team in 2010, Coach Let was assistant coach under Malou Rubio from 2005 to 2009, and then assistant coach to the team under FEU football program head Kim Chol Su in 2009. Coach Let says her time spent with the Korean mentor?known in football circles as ?Master? Kim?was formative of her own development as a coach.
“I took note of all the things Master Kim would say. So when I was finally made head coach, that’s when I combined everything I learned from Master Kim and from the other people I’ve worked with.”
Watching FEU play in the UAAP, whether it’s their women’s, men’s, or junior’s team, there is a common adherence to slick passing football built on what Master Kim calls the twenty foundation skills. Coach Let says in training this means emphasis on proper body position and ball movement, with corrections done at every step, if necessary. That was the good thing I learned and since I work at the grassroots level too, I get to apply it in my work.
In 2015 Coach Let was able to watch the Women’s World Cup in Canada as a delegate in the congress held by FIFA to promote the women’s game. The final was played between USA and Japan, a re-match of the 2011 World Cup final.
On this, Coach Let recalls her days as a player for the national team. She played against Japan once too, albeit in a 15-nil loss in 2003.
For my last round of questions, I ask Coach Let who her favorite player is and she cites the Japanese midfielder, Homare Sawa, the Nadeshiko?s captain during their 2011 World Cup-winning run. Sawa made her debut for Japan in 1993, against the Philippines where the then-15 year-old scored 4 goals.
As we watch the games from the bleachers, Coach Let tells me offhand, “I’m happy when I play. I’d rather spend my days here than at home.”
To a woman whose found life and success in football, this says much. She found her calling here. She found love here, married in 2004 to a fellow football player, Jimmy Dimzon. Of her daughter Kyle, now 11, she says she wouldn’t mind her pursuing a career in football either.
In 2013, after a 12 year gap in schooling, Coach Let went back to college and finished her degree in financial management. She felt like she had no right to tell her daughter to study hard if she herself had never finished school.
“I needed to finish it too, so if the time came I?d have to leave the sport, I?d have something for myself.”
In sports as in any field there are people who loom larger than life. Coach Let is not one of those people. In conversations she is quiet and unassuming. She is of the mold, perhaps harder to emulate, the much idealized but rarely seen role model. Asked on her coaching motto, Coach Let says,
You should never stay at the same level. Always push yourself to the next.
Hard work is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Coach Marnelli ?Let? Dimzon is in a league of her own precisely because she constantly exceeds her level.
Author: Bea Quintos – a reporter and sportswriter form the Philippines, contacted the FCN in February 2016 to share the story she had written about Coach Marnelli Dimzon and the inspirational story of Marnelli’s life. ?Here is Marnelli’s story…