MANILA – He may be miles away from the comfort of his family and friends but Josh Ybañez is making his stint in Manila worthwhile.
Suiting up for the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Golden Spikers, Ybañez has been making waves in the UAAP men’s volleyball tournament – and also online – as he keeps on impressing fans with his explosive performances that earned him numerous Player of the Game citations already.
The 5-foot-7 rookie, who defies his height with high-leaping ability and powerful spikes, is spearheading the UST men’s team campaign in the UAAP Season 85. UST is now in second place, tied with Far Eastern University at 5-1, and behind defending champion National University (5-0).
Ybañez is currently the league’s second leading scorer with a whopping 129 points already after just six outings, norming 21.5 points per game, and three-point shy of Mark Calado’s 132 markers.
In fact, Ybañez tallied a scintillating 31 points during their four-set win over Ateneo de Manila University – the highest by any player in a game both in men’s and women’s division so far this season.
“Actually hindi ko expect na nag-31 points pala ako. Kasi ginawa ko during the game mag-enjoy lang. Nilaro ko lang,” he told ABS-CBN News.
While building his name in men’s volleyball, Ybañez has consistently given credit to his hometown General Santos City.
“Siyempre sobrang saya kasi nga every time nagpi-POG (Player of the Game) ako, hindi ko lang pride 'yung nadadagdagan, kung 'di pride din ng GenSan. Dala-dala ko rin ang General Santos City,” he continued.
But how did he end up in the Tigers’ lair? Ybañez, who has been known in the local volleyball scene as an active player in various one-day league tournaments, was tapped to play as an “import” in a short competition in Manila.
This eventually paved the way for the seniors of the UST Golden Spikers to see the potential of the athlete and invited him to try out for the team.
According to Ybañez, it was Lorence Cruz, Lorenz Senoron, Jesse Tajanlangit, and Charlee Magpayo, who persistently wooed him to join the Espana-based squad.
But his decision to move to Manila also made him miss home. Luckily, technology helps him to avoid homesickness.
“Sobrang nami-miss… Kahit hindi nila sabihing proud sila sa 'kin, alam ko na sa pinapakita nila na sobrang-sobrang proud nila sa 'kin lalo na 'yung family ko,” Ybañez added.
Ybañez has been included in the top 10 list in six of the seven departments in the men’s division.
Apart from being the second running in the scoring department, he is the second best server of the league with 0.36 average aces per set, as of writing.
He is also currently the third best spiker and receiver of the men’s side while placing ninth in digging and 10th in blocking – making him a strong candidate not only for the Rookie of the Year plum but also the MVP award.
But the outside hitter is not shifting his focus to any individual award.
“The more ko na iniisip 'yung mga ganyan, mas lalo akong nape-pressure. Mas lalo akong nape-pressure. Mas lalo akong nate-tense. Naninigas ako ganon,” he admitted.
But he assured his fans, especially those back home in General Santos City, that he will keep on making them proud.
“Ang maipa-promise ko lang sa kanila, 'di ko sila bibiguin. I’ll do my best to make them proud,” he said.
Ybañez and the rest of the Golden Spikers will cap their first round stint against the UE Red Warriors on Saturday, March 18.