MANILA, Philippines – Two years removed from her last UAAP game, Alyssa Valdez still cannot get used to simply being a spectator whenever she watches the Ateneo Lady Eagles compete.
Valdez, the three-time MVP who led Ateneo de Manila University to two championships, attended the UAAP Season 80 games over the past weekend, but obviously paid special attention to the first game of her former teammates.
The Lady Eagles dropped a tough five-setter to Far Eastern University (FEU), 25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 20-25, 9-15. It was a sorry loss for Ateneo, as the Katipunan volleybelles surged to a 6-1 lead in the fifth frame before falling apart amid a hail of aces from the Lady Tamaraws.
Since leaving the league at the end of Season 78, Valdez has watched a few of the Lady Eagles' games. Yet even now, the "Phenom" still cannot help but feel antsy whenever she is in the audience.
"It's super hard," she admits. "You really want to go and really support. Not just, like, watching, 'di ba? You want to contribute also for the team."
Valdez is hopeful that her presence – along with those of other Ateneo alumni such as Denden Lazaro, who was also in attendance at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday – was helpful to the Lady Eagles.
"But still, sobrang weird na feeling," she further explained. "Two years na, pero you get the same feeling na you really want to play in the UAAP, and for your school."
Valdez admits to feeling almost helpless when she watches games, as opposed to how she feels whenever she is inside the court – where she can dictate the course of the action and impose her considerable will on the game.
"Sobrang iba ang feeling outside the court," said Valdez, who still drew the loudest cheers from fans when she was shown on the big screen at the arena. "You can control what's happening inside the court. You can always talk to your teammates, kung ano ang kailangan i-adjust."
As difficult as it is for her to be a mere spectator, however, Valdez has long accepted that her time in the UAAP is over. Now, she settles for offering advice to the young Lady Eagles – several of whom were just freshmen or sophomores when Valdez left the team.
"Sinabi ko lang sa kanila na you just really have to enjoy the journey of this year," said Valdez, referring specifically to Ateneo veterans Jhoana Maraguinot, Bea de Leon, and Maddie Madayag.
"Maraming challenges," she added. "(But) madami sigurong happy moments. At the end of the day, nothing compares to representing your school with pride and honor. 'Yun naman 'yun, at the end of the day."
"It's for your team and all the coaches, and the people who believe."
And after seeing her former team open their Season 80 campaign with a loss, Valdez had just one small piece of advice.
"I've learned from Coach Roger (Gorayeb) na when you get out of the court, you don't have to say 'sayang,'" said Valdez, who was mentored by Gorayeb in her first two seasons before Tai Bundit took over as Ateneo head coach.
"If you say 'sayang,' that means na parang, 'I could have done better, I could have done more.' But if you say, 'Okay, next game,' you know that you can do better next game, you know na kaya din talaga to bounce back next game," she added.
Ateneo returns to action on Wednesday against National University.
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