MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo de Manila University veteran Ponggay Gaston refused to let a second-set benching get her down, and instead came back to set her career-high in scoring as the Lady Eagles defeated Adamson University in four sets on Wednesday.
Gaston was subbed out in the early goings of the second set, after committing yet another attack error against the Lady Falcons. She returned late in the frame, and although Ateneo lost Set 2, Gaston still played on and was a major factor in the Lady Eagles' eventual win.
She scored 16 points -- on 10 kills and 6 aces -- as the Lady Eagles claimed a 25-8, 22-25, 25-16, 25-10 triumph -- their fifth straight victory in the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
"I didn't even know that I got 16 (points)," said Gaston. "I don't really count points, that's just how I am."
She acknowledged that her career-best outing was a "blessing," especially as she was subbed out in the second frame. Gaston admits that she briefly worried that she would not be sent back in, but once she found her way back to the court, she was determined to give her best.
"Yung mindset ko is to stay positive lang and be ready," said Gaston. "Hindi 'yung mindset na wala na, nilabas na ako, hindi na ako makakalaro. I knew that it's a strategy for him, for me to come back."
"It's his way of telling me na medyo nage-errors ka na, so kailangan mo na ayusin ang mindset mo, mag-warm up ulit sa likod, maybe shake off whatever thoughts I had in my head," she added.
Gaston was admittedly a little over-eager in the second set. As hard as she hit, the Lady Falcons repeatedly dug up her attacks. Finally, she sent one hit too wide, and Almadro took her out in favor of rookie Vannie Gandler.
She was sent back in after Adamson seized an 18-17 lead late, and helped Ateneo stay in the hunt before falling short. But it was also Gaston who scored the match-winner for Ateneo, bouncing a hit off the Adamson blockers to secure their fifth victory.
"It's a mind game, being subbed out," she said afterward. "But I just look at my teammates, and I look at (team captain) Bea (de Leon), kasi si Bea sobrang team player siya."
"She'll look at me and she'll say 'Pong, balik ka, ganito-ganyan.' So pag ganoon, 'yun ang nagiging motivation ko, na kahit i-sub out ako, parang iniisip ko na kailangan kong gawin para sa teammates ko 'to, kailangan kong gawin para sa coach ko," she added.
For Gaston, her re-entry to the game was a "second chance."
"When I came back, I just said na I'll do my best. Adamson's a hard team to beat. My team was doing well so I didn't want to be a liability. I just tried to do my best," she said.
Gaston, who is averaging a shade over eight points per game for Ateneo, acknowledges that she still has plenty to work on, even as she has developed into a key contributor for the Lady Eagles.
"Being a player, it's not like you stop when you reach a certain goal. Coach teaches us to aim higher and have our hearts on what's above. I can't be complacent. I have to help the team," she said.
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