MANILA, Philippines – Star setter Jia Morado thoroughly enjoyed playing with her former teammates in the Ateneo de Manila University women's volleyball team, but she still stands by her decision to "graduate" from the Lady Eagles.
The one-time UAAP Best Setter had 5 points and 58 excellent sets in Ateneo's epic five-set victory over archrival De La Salle University in the "Battle of the Rivals" last Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena, and was named match MVP.
With Morado making plays for superstar Alyssa Valdez and veterans like Ella de Jesus and Amy Ahomiro, Ateneo clawed its way back from a two-set deficit and hacked out a 17-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13 victory.
"It felt great, playing again with familiar people," said Morado, who served as Ateneo's team captain in the UAAP Season 79 tournament and led the Lady Eagles to a sixth consecutive Finals appearance.
"It took some kapa-kapa and adjustments, pero nakuha din namin eventually," she added.
Sunday's exhibition game, which was held for the benefit of the two schools' scholarship programs and the Rebisco Foundation, gave Morado a chance to once again set for her Season 79 teammates like Bea de Leon, Jho Maraguinot, and Michelle Morente.
It also marked her reunion with De Jesus, Ahomiro, and libero Denden Lazaro, with whom she teamed up to lead Ateneo to back-to-back UAAP women's titles in Seasons 76 and 77.
And it gave her the opportunity to finally share the court with Fille Cainglet-Cayetano, a member of the famed "Fab 5" recruiting class that first brought the Ateneo volleyball program to prominence. Cainglet-Cayetano graduated at the end of Season 75, one year before Morado joined the Lady Eagles.
Yet as much as she enjoyed her brief reunion with her former teammates, Morado still does not intend to return to Ateneo for her final year of eligibility. The Season 77 Best Setter shockingly announced her "graduation" from the team at the end of Season 79, following their loss to La Salle in the Finals.
"It's final," Morado said of her decision.
Rather than entertaining second thoughts, Morado is instead delighting in how the Lady Eagles were able to rise to the occasion after going down by two sets to a La Salle team that featured several multi-titled players, like Aby Maraño, Michele Gumabao, Ara Galang, and Kim Fajardo.
"I thought we were going to lose (in) straight (sets)," Morado said, laughing. "But I'm glad naman that the fans got to watch a good game, and it's always fun going against La Salle. Kahit nga sa game na 'yun, andami ko ng natutunan, 'd iba?"
"I'm just happy sa turnout ng match," added Morado, noting the huge number of fans who flocked to the MOA Arena on a Sunday for a charity match. "I'm just hoping na everyone is reminded na this is really for a good cause."
"It's not just for La Salle, not just for Ateneo. It's not for pride; it's for a good cause talaga."
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