MANILA, Philippines – After the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tigresses won the championship in the UAAP volleyball finals last February, graduating superstar Angeli “Ange” Tabaquero only had a few things going on in her mind.
“Ang saya, champion! Goodbye, UAAP,” was all Tabaquero told herself as throngs of fans congratulated her and her teammates outside the San Juan Arena.
Two years ago, this scenario would not have been remotely possible.
As volleyball icons Mary Jean Balse and Venus Bernal graduated from UST after Season 70, spectators were surprised to learn that Tabaquero was not included in UST’s roster, even if she had two more years to play.
Although her batch mate and utility player Aiza Maizo had a splendid performance in Season 71, the Tigresses had difficulties getting production from other spots on the floor, particularly from open hitters.
Two rookies, Bernice Co and Judy Ann Caballejo, filled up the positions Tabaquero and Bernal vacated.
The Tigresses still duplicated their Season 70 standing as they wound up third anew, but Tabaquero felt that they could have secured a better finish.
“The lineup was still intact, I was the only one that did not play,” she said. “All of them had the skills, but I think they lacked the heart to go all the way to the finals.”
Missing in action
Despite finishing bridesmaids in beach volleyball that year, Tabaquero explained that she decided not to play indoor volleyball in the 2008-2009 season because she wanted to focus on her studies.
“I can study and play at the same time,” said the Communication Arts major. “Pero iba pa din kung naka-focus ako sa priority ko.”
She also clarified that her absence was not spawned by her misunderstanding with the coaching staff.
“It (misunderstanding) is not true,” she said. “I had no issues with the coaches. I really just had to focus on my studies.”
The biggest rumor about her absence, though, was that she got pregnant, which allegedly forced her to quit competitive volleyball.
“The worst thing said about me was that I stopped playing because I got pregnant,” said Tabaquero. “Even my family just laughs about it because they know that the rumor was just created by people who want to put me down.”
Character on the court
Discovered by former UST mentor August Sta. Maria during the National Capital Region Palaro, Tabaquero had no second thoughts about suiting up for the Tigresses even if another UAAP school was keen on getting her services.
“I remember telling my mom that I wanted to study in UST every time we would pass by it on our way to her office,” said Ange, a product of the School of St. Anthony in Lagro. “My older brother was a graduate of UST, and I have always wanted to play with Balse and Bernal.”
Tabaquero got her wish. She and batch mates Denise Tan and Maizo donned the black-gold-white uniform in Season 68, getting the chance to play with Balse and Bernal.
Not to be outdone by the veterans, Tabaquero, Tan and Maizo were able to build their own names and carve a niche in the game.
Tabaquero stood out because she was a character on the court. Aside from her booming spikes and superb floor defense, she was also known for her antics such as the “pamewang” pose every time she would score an impressive kill against the opponents.
“Nagsimula yung pag-pamewang when I was in 2nd year,” she recalled. “Natripan ko lang, kasi kapag kalaban namin ang Far Eastern University dati, laging asaran.”
Her childlike demeanor on the court endeared her to the fans, many of whom watched her games, gave her gifts or praised her in online message boards.
These fans were the ones most overjoyed by Tabaquero’s decision to return to the Tigresses’ fold.
In the 1st Conference of the Shakey’s V-league’s 6th Season, Tabaquero watched most of the Tigresses’ games, spewing speculations that she was coming back to the team.
She did not watch most of UST’s games in the UAAP as she admitted that she got “jealous with her teammates.”
“I decided to return to the team in March last year,” she said. “Volleyball is in my system that is why I decided to play again.”
After a year of waiting, the fans finally got to see Tabaquero play again in the V-League’s 2nd conference. While the viewers were excited to see her again, Tabaquero admitted to being anxious before she stepped onto the playing court.
“I was nervous before I started to play again,” she said. “Pero nung naglalaro na, parang wala na lang, kasi ginagawa ko na naman ‘yun dati.”
Leaving a mark
In UAAP Season 72, Tabaquero fortified UST’s already solid offense and defense as she played with former teammates and new players who were all too eager to share the court with her.
At the end of the eliminations, she led all Tigresses in scoring, tallying 172 points. In the two games of the finals, she chalked up 29 markers.
“She has been of great help to the team,” said UST Coach Shaq delos Santos about Tabaquero’s impact in the squad. “Iba ‘yung may senior sa team.”
Moreover, her contribution to the team extended far from just delivering the points.
“I have been a good example to my teammates,” said Tabaquero. “I also helped the coaches motivate my teammates whom I consider as my sisters.”
In the Finals’ Game 2, Tabaquero poured every thing she had despite suffering from fever just a few days before the match.
In a symbolic picture of things to come ahead for the Tigresses, Tabaquero was several feet away from her teammates during the game’s clutch moments. She was serving up until the match point.
“All I could think about was finally, all our efforts have paid off,” she said about her thoughts as she served the ball that helped carry the España-based tossers to their second UAAP title in four years.
Some players come and go, and people hardly notice or care. Tabaquero, however, is not one of those players. Gifted with impressive skills and a likeable attitude, she is one of those players whom fans will continue to remember decades after she has sung her swan song. – by Ivan de Lara
For more UAAP, visit www.uaapsports.com