MANILA, Philippines – Heading into the UAAP Season 79 women's volleyball tournament, Jhoana Maraguinot was expected to fill the hole left by Alyssa Valdez in the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles.
But for most of the first round, Maraguinot did not exactly live up to expectations. She had a solid debut against University of Santo Tomas (UST), but her performances were up-and-down. Maraguinot's lackluster first round was capped by a five-point outing against De La Salle University, a four-set win for the Lady Eagles.
Since then, however, Maraguinot has turned a corner. She has now scored double-digits in three straight games, capped by a season-high 23-point effort against Far Eastern University (FEU) last Sunday that went a long way towards helping Ateneo win in five sets.
"Wala lang, nag-focus lang ako," Maraguinot said after the game, which saw her step up in the final set after the Lady Eagles wasted a two-set advantage. "Sabi ko nga, 'di ba, mas magfo-focus ako this second round, so ayun lang."
[I just focused on the game. Like I said, I'll be more focused in the second round.]
After scoring 12 points in Ateneo's straight sets win against UST last week, Maraguinot revealed that she has made a concerted effort to be more focused in games, after admittedly "relaxing" in the first round.
"Ang mindset ko is, if game na, it's game time talaga," she said. "Kung ano man 'yung iniisip ko outside, hindi ko siya pwedeng isipin during games."
"Kailangan ko nga na bumawi, and parang sinasabi rin nila na kailangan ako ng teammates ko. So ayun, kailangan ko talaga maglaro ng maayos," she added.
[My mindset is, if it's game time, then it's game time. I don't let myself get distracted, because I know I need to bounce back. My teammates also tell me that they need me, so I have to play well.]
According to Maraguinot, she relaxed in the first round because she had full confidence in her teammates. The Lady Eagles have a deep roster, and even when Maraguinot is off, they have other options on offense who can step up and carry the load. For instance, in their win against La Salle, Michelle Morente (25 points) and Kat Tolentino (18 points) starred while Maraguinot was limited.
There is no doubt that they are a much more dangerous team when Maraguinot is locked in, however, and the veteran open hitter recognizes that.
"Parang nakalimutan ko 'yung sarili ko, na kailangan pa rin nila ako," she said.
[It's like I forgot about myself, I forgot that my team still needs me.]
"'Yung first round, alam ko rin sa sarili ko na hindi 'yun 'yung laro ko. Sabi ko, kailangan kong bumawi. Marami rin namang nakakapansin, hindi lang naman ako," Maraguinot added. "Ayoko rin naman na buong season, parang buong season, 'yung nilaro ko sa first round, 'yun na 'yun."
[I know that I didn't play up to my usual standards in the first round, and I know other people noticed. That's why I need to bounce back. I don't want the first round to define my season.]
She made sure to walk the talk against FEU, where her last hit of the game gave Ateneo a 10-5 lead in the fifth set en route to victory.
It helps that Maraguinot was challenged by the stellar play of FEU's Bernadeth Pons, who came up with 19 points of her own while inspiring the Lady Tamaraws' comeback.
"Kung pwede nga lang na lumikod ako at dumepensa ako, lilikod ako," said Maraguinot. "Palitan na lang siguro, at bawian na lang."
[If I could move to the back line to defend Pons, I would have. So we just exchanged points with her.]
Maraguinot's resolve – and that of her team's – will be tested once more on Wednesday, when they take on National University in their fourth game in 12 days. The Lady Bulldogs beat Ateneo in four sets in round 1, with Maraguinot scoring 12 points.
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