MANILA, Philippines – Since she burst into the UAAP volleyball scene in Season 77, University of the East's (UE) Kath Arado has quietly developed into one of the top liberos in the Philippines.
The league took notice of her efforts in her freshman year, giving her co-Rookie of the Year honors – together with EJ Laure of University of Santo Tomas (UST) – even as the Lady Warriors failed to win a single game all season long.
Since then, she has only gotten better, even winning Best Digger honors in Season 79. Yet Arado's name rarely comes up when the Philippines' best liberos are discussed, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, for all of her efforts, the Lady Warriors have yet to experience much success during her time. They had won a combined two games during her first three seasons in the UAAP.
Secondly, Arado has been working in the shadow of De La Salle University's own phenomenal libero, Dawn Macandili. There is no doubt that Macandili remains a force of nature, a dynamo of a defender who is so fast that she can dig up virtually every ball, and an athlete so tough that she shows no hesitation in diving multiple times a match.
Nevertheless, Arado has improved to the point that she can be mentioned in the same breath as Macandili. They split the libero awards in Season 79, and in Season 80, they are once again neck-and-neck in terms of receiving and digging. Macandili has the slight edge in digs, with an average of 6.79 digs per set to Arado's 6.64. Arado, however, is the better receiver at 52.43%, while Macandili is at an even 50%.
Arado's remarkable skills can no longer be ignored in Season 80, partly because her efforts are finally translating into victories for the Lady Warriors. After opening their season with six straight defeats, UE has now won back-to-back games – a five-set marathon against Adamson University last Sunday, and a four-set shocker over UST on Wednesday.
"Sobrang worth it po, sobra-sobrang worth it na lahat ng pagod na ginagawa namin sa training, sa game. Parang hindi mo na maiinda 'yung mga sakit sa katawan, mga injury," a delighted Arado told reporters after their 25-23, 18-25, 28-26, 26-24 triumph over the Golden Tigresses.
Arado has been nothing less than heroic in their past two wins. She had 24 digs and 32 receptions against Adamson, and followed that up with a 28-dig, 32-reception performance against UST.
"No. 1 naman 'yan eh," said UE's interim coach Rod Roque, who has now matched the win output of former coach Francis Vicenter over the past three-and-a-half years. "No. 1 'yan sa UAAP, and No. 1 'yan sa puso namin."
And Arado was No. 1 in the minds of the volleyball fans, who made her the top trending topic on Twitter after their game against UST.
"Sobrang speechless po ako," said Arado.
For Arado, who toiled in relative obscurity for the past three seasons, all the sacrifices that she has made have been made worth it by their performances in the past two games. More than anything, however, she is grateful that finally, fans are changing their perception of the team that she has worked for and loved for so long.
"Sa akin lang talaga, gusto ko talaga 'yung mabago talaga ang tingin nila sa UE," said Arado. "Noong unang game pa lang namin sa UAAP, 'yun talaga ang nasa isip ko. Ngayon na season na 'to, gusto ko talagang baguhin ang tingin nila sa UE."
Indeed, Arado told reporters after their first game of Season 80 – a five-set loss to University of the Philippines – that she was determined to elevate the UE women's volleyball program in the eyes of fans.
"Gusto ka talaga, bago matapos sa UE, kailangan namin umangat 'yung standard sa UE. Hindi pwedeng pag-graduate namin, 'yung mga tao tingin ay UE lang kami," she said back then.
Now, Arado can just smile in relief and delight as the Lady Warriors begin to make waves in the league – due in large part to her own tireless work on the defensive end.
"Nangyayari naman talaga," she said. "Lalo na sa tulong ng mga coaches at sa mga teammates ko."
Make no mistake, however: the two wins that they have aren't enough to satisfy Arado and her teammates. She knows that to truly change the way volleyball fans think of UE, they have to play at an even higher level, and to win even more. That is the challenge that she willingly takes.
"Each team talaga, malakas," she said. "So kailangan lang talaga namin i-prepare ang sarili namin as individuals, tapos lalo na sa team."
"Lagi kaming sinasabihan ng mga coaches namin, lalo na si Sir Rod na, enjoy lang kayo, disiplinahin niyo lang ang sarili niyo, gumalaw kayo, kung ano 'yung gusto niyong gawin sa court, lalabas at lalabas kasi talaga," she added.
"So huwag niyong pigilan na ilabas ang tunay niyong laro. Kaya free talaga kami."
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