MANILA, Philippines – UAAP Season 76 Most Valuable Player Alyssa Valdez and star libero Denden Lazaro received a lot of praise for leading the Ateneo Lady Eagles to their first ever women’s volleyball championship, but they were quick to laud their less-heralded teammates as well.
Valdez was the season’s MVP, Best Scorer and Best Server, and was named the Finals MVP, while Lazaro was the season’s Best Digger and Best Receiver. Both played major roles in Ateneo’s four-game triumph over La Salle.
“This year, mas relaxed kami,” said Lazaro. “We were just enjoying every game. Wala masyadong expectations, so no pressure at all.”
Valdez and Lazaro were the leaders of a young team that fielded two rookies in its first six – setter Jia Morado and utility-spiker Michelle Morente.
But Valdez said the veterans received a lot of help from their rookies, who played with no fear even in the biggest of stages.
“Hindi na namin kailangan alalayan ‘yung mga rookies,” said Valdez. “Yung fighting spirit nila, andoon na.”
Lazaro noted that because their other teammates – notably Amy Ahomiro and Ella de Jesus – stepped up, they became a more dangerous and versatile team.
“Lahat ng teams binabantayan si Alyssa,” said Lazaro. “But then, as the season progressed, everybody was contributing, which was vital sa pagkakapanalo namin sa Finals.”
“Everybody did really well, from the setter to the middle spiker. So hindi lang naka-focus lahat kay Alyssa. Lahat talaga, nag-contribute,” she said.
Morado, who placed second in the race for the Best Setter award, said the “no expectations” mentality did wonders for her and fellow rookie Morente.
“Sa start pa lang ng season, sinasabi na nila Ate Alyssa sa amin na since rookie year pa lang namin, wala pa namang ine-expect sa amin,” said Morado. “So kailangan lang namin pumasok sa court, tapos maglaro.”
Ateneo’s run to the championship was a fairy-tale ending to what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, as the team was dealing with the loss of five starters.
They reached the Final Four as a third seed, but had to play three do-or-die games just to reach the Finals as La Salle had swept the elimination round, triggering a step-ladder semi-finals.
Faced with a thrice-to-beat disadvantage against the Lady Spikers, Ateneo pulled off an upset for the ages, beating La Salle in Games 1, 3 and 4 – including a stunning three-set sweep in the clincher – to win their first ever UAAP women’s volleyball crown.
“It was a dream come true,” said Valdez. “Parang fairy tale din lang ang nangyari. Wala talagang expectations this season. It was a new team, (but) we just played happy and united, and with our hearts strong.”