MANILA – When, as a rising collegiate star fresh out of high school, you are suddenly sidelined by two knee injuries for two consecutive seasons, it gets difficult and frustrating. An unquantifiable amount of struggle, both physically and mentally, may take over you to the point of even thinking if it is about time to hang up the sneakers.
Some athletes may fall into the trap, but definitely not Ateneo’s Ana Gopico.
Gopico entered Ateneo in 2013 with batchmates Jia Morado, Michelle Morente, Kim Gequillana, and Jamie Lavitoria. Although they were rookies in every sense of the word, they were expected to fill in the void left by Gretchen Ho, Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer, and A Nacachi upon graduation.
However, things did not go as planned for the former high school standout.
Gopico suffered a season-ending knee injury midway in UAAP Season 76. Just when she was eyeing her return in Season 77, the middle blocker’s will-power, character, and commitment to the sport was tested anew as she reinjured her knee once again – forcing her to sit out even Season 78.
But now that she is back with the team, this talented lady is all set to help her team in their quest for redemption after losing both their crowns in the commercial and collegiate ranks.
She was a welcome addition to the squad after Ateneo lost Alyssa Valdez, Amy Ahomiro, and Mae Tajima.
The Lady Eagles started their 13th Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference campaign on a low note after dropping their first two matches against Technical Institute of the Philippines and San Sebastian College.
With backs against the wall, Ateneo head coach Tai Bundit surprised everyone with his unlikely selection of the team starters – mainstays Bea de Leon, Kim Gequillana and Gizelle Tan, rookie Jules Samonte, resident libero turned setter Jamie Lavitoria, and two of the team’s middles converted as wing spikers Ponggay Gaston and Gopico.
While Gaston has played the open position in the past games, it was the former Palarong Pambansa Best Middle Blocker’s baptism of fire.
“Sa totoo lang, sobrang hirap for me,” she shared. “Yung open spiker, sobrang porsyento na position. Nagde-depend talaga yung plays minsan sa open kasi maraming bola doon.”
Gopico also admitted that the sudden change of position is even made more difficult for her since she is coming from a string of injuries.
“May pag-aalangan pa rin,” the powerful hitter disclosed. “Kulang pa yung confidence ko, and alam ko na hindi pa ako fully physically capable.”
Still, Coach Tai Bundit’s experiment worked wonders for the team.
“Kailangan talaga namin mag-adjust kasi puro talo nga diba and kinakapa pa rin nung mga coaches namin yung mga skills ng bawat players,” explained Gopico. “Kailangan ready talaga kaming lahat na mag-change ng positions.”
The Colegio San Agustin-Makati alum also put up a strong performance in Ateneo’s straight set victory against the University of Perpetual Help Lady Altas at the PhilSports Arena.
Gopico arguably played her best game yet since her return, finishing with 11 points. On top of those reflected in the stat sheet, the converted open spiker showed a lot of promise in her new position.
Despite her personal apprehensions to being given an even more crucial ruoe in the team as main gunner Jhoana Maraguinot is still out with an injury, the Lady Eagle’s assessment of her game could do wonders for her confidence heading deeper into the tournament.
“I think I’m doing okay naman for a first timer open (spiker),” she said with a laugh.
Given everything she’s been through, both as an individual who struggled with injuries early in her young career and as a senior player of a rebuilding team, Gopico is happy with what they have achieved on Monday.
“Super saya naming lahat kasi ang ganda ng laro ng bawat isa – from defense to offense and setting,” she noted. “Ang laki ng improvement namin from our last few games. Sobrang kalat nun eh.”
The Lady Eagles are back on the winning track. Gopico is back to doing what she loves. With her rejuvenated passion and vigor for the sport, as well as a newly assigned volleyball position, she can help Ateneo soar to higher grounds.