MANILA – Late in the second set of the match, UAAP Season 77 Finals MVP Amy Ahomiro was on the service deck. She tossed up the ball and served it to the other side. Ace. Set point for the Ateneo Lady Eagles. The crowd went wild.
Yet anyone who consistently followed the tournament knew that the De La Salle Lady Spikers won’t go down without a fight. They tied the score at 24-all. After a series of errors from both teams, and a scoring exchange by two of the most-celebrated rivals in Alyssa Valdez and Ara Galang, the Lady Spikers took the lead 27-26. A thunderous attack by rising superstar Kim Dy won the set for the Taft-based squad. La Salle was one set away from the championship.
The sea of blue at the Mall of Asia Arena was silenced. All eyes were on UAAP Season 78 Best Scorer, Best Server, and Most Valuable Player Alyssa Valdez. Could it be the end of the road for the Phenom?
The third set started with a monstrous block by La Salle on an Ateneo attack, something the Lady Spikers repeatedly did in their Game 1 victory. Yet sophomore players Jhoana Maraguinot and Bea de Leon refused to let their team down. They scored a variety of points to pace the Lady Eagles in the early goings of the set. Maraguinot had a sensational performance with 15 points and 17 excellent receptions, while De Leon towered over everyone with 12 points, including two block points.
It happened right before their captain took charge.
As if on cue, as her collegiate career is on the line, the Queen Eagle soared high enough that not even the steady and reliable defense of La Salle could contain her flight.
Valdez relentlessly unleashed canons after canons to force a rubber match winner-takes-all Game 3 on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Not only did she tally 32 of Ateneo’s 63 total attacks, but she top-scored all scorers in the game with 34 points. This is just one point shy of her UAAP career-high 35 points which she recorded against the Adamson Lady Falcons in Season 75.
Just what was going through her mind in the crucial fifth set of the game? “Ang sakit ng katawan ko,” the 22-year old superstar joked. “Pag nandoon ka na, fifth set, kahit anong nararamdaman mo diba, papaluin mo nalang yung bola eh.”
But amidst all the clamour the three-time MVP got after a stellar performance, she deflected the credit to the young core of the team.
“You’ll admire naman talaga these kids, this young generation. Even with great pressure, even with great responsibility, they will perform no matter what,” the Ateneo team skipper said. “We’re just really happy we played as a team today.”
Valdez, who is on her fifth and final year in the league, described how she felt of the support given by her teammates whether in and out of the taraflex court.
“Alam mo yung kinikilabutan ka talaga kasi makikita mong lumalaban ang lahat,” she revealed. “Tapos pagkakita mo sa likod, makikita mo nagchi-cheer lahat ng teammates mo.”
It was indeed a team effort for Ateneo as the other Lady Eagles focused on the other aspects of the game. Libero Gizelle Tan had a better outing in Game 2 as she tallied 19 excellent digs and 23 excellent receptions. Kim Gequillana, who barged into the team’s first six after Maddie Madayag suffered a season-ending ACL injury on her right knee, also had 12 excellent digs. Former Best Setter awardee Jia Morado recorded 70 excellent sets.
Although the multi-awarded athlete cares about the championship more than any individual award that may be given to her, “Each and every one in my team, if given a chance, bibigyan ko talaga individually ng awards,” she admitted. “I really admire my teammates and I couldn’t ask for more.”
But as much as the biggest rivalry in Philippine collegiate sports has entertained volleyball fans in the past five years, it will all soon come to an end.
With the finale of this generation’s Ateneo-La Salle saga in UAAP volleyball about to unfold on Saturday, Valdez expects nothing else but an all-out war. “Mind over matter na ito. Kahit masakit, kahit anong meron, lalaban ka lang.”
“We had nothing to lose in today’s game. We’re the underdogs. They won Game 1,” she said. “Definitely, La Salle will fight hard on Saturday, and they won’t just let go of the chance na binigay sa kanila.”
And in her last flight, Valdez has a message to all the supporters. “Iba-iba yung kwento. So, tignan natin sa Sabado kung paano magco-close yung mga chapter ng UAAP careers naming mga seniors. Let’s all be present on Saturday.”