MANILA, Philippines – Marian Buitre was painfully honest when asked about her role in the University of the Philippines (UP) women's volleyball team in UAAP Season 81.
She had just scored a season-best 19 points, playing a big role in the Lady Maroons' hard-earned five-set win over University of the East (UE) on Wednesday. The graduating spiker came up big in the deciding set, and UP came away with a crucial 25-23, 20-25, 25-23, 24-26, 15-11 triumph.
It was one of the rare times that she started a game this season, as an unfortunate injury to ace spiker Isa Molde opened up a spot in Godfrey Okumu's first six. In UP's first nine games of Season 81, Buitre had been a fixture in the reserve box, and prior to Wednesday's game against UE, she had scored a total of 17 points.
"At first, it was really frustrating for me," admitted Buitre, who built a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in their team prior to this year.
"I felt like I was running out of time," she explained. "I was in a hurry to do everything. I was in a hurry to perform. Basically in all aspects, I was in a hurry kasi it's my last year, I want to make the most out of it."
Unfortunately for Buitre, her minutes were limited as she played the same position as UP captain Tots Carlos. There were instances where she shone – notably in a straight-sets loss to Ateneo de Manila University in the first round, when she subbed in for an inefficient Carlos, and finished with six points.
When Molde got injured against Ateneo last Saturday, Buitre stepped in for her, and scored six points in another straight sets loss. Afterward, she stressed that she is always ready to play whenever UP needed her, and backed up her words with a fine performance against UE.
"Like what I've said in my previous interviews, lagi kong sinasabi na as a senior, lagi naman akong andyan if they need me. Hindi naman ako nawawala," Buitre said following their win over UE.
It was admittedly tough for Buitre to accept the role that she was given in UP, especially in what is her final season with the team.
She insists that she is not mad to have been given such a limited role, to play very few minutes. However, that does not stop her from wishing that she could be doing more – especially as she is a senior.
"Ayun nga, as long as they're playing well, okay lang naman sa akin," she said. "Parang, 'di naman ako galit, but it took me a while to parang, 'Sige, 'pag pinalaro ka, okay lang, kailangan mo mag-perform.'"
"It's really a big pill to swallow, kasi as a veteran tapos iba-bangko ka," she pointed out.
It's just one reason that she was so determined to step up on Wednesday against the Lady Warriors. Buitre already approaches each game as if it's a championship game, but it was clear that she was extra motivated against UE.
"If I wasn't patient enough, eh 'di I didn't play today," she said.
It may have been difficult for Buitre to accept a reduced role in UP, but she eventually came around to it.
"At some point, na-realize ko na I'm always trying to prove a point, but then I guess I don't really need to prove anything," she said. "Kasi, it's a team sport."
"Like what I said before, there's nothing more noble than seeing your teammates play their best, they're winning, our team is winning even at your own expense," she added.
Their win over UE – which saw Buitre earn Player of the Game honors – hiked UP's record to 6-4, keeping them in the hunt for a spot in the Final 4. It is the thought of the team's success that keeps Buitre motivated, even if she doesn't play consistent minutes this year.
"Every season, meron naman akong sine-set na goals for myself," she said. "But itong season na ito, siyempre hindi ako naging starter, hindi ako masyadong pinalaro noong first round."
"But then, 'yun nga, it's a team sport. Hindi naman lahat ng goals ko for myself, makukuha ko," Buitre added. "But the goals of the team, as long as the goals of the team are committed, parang okay lang sa akin."
"The goals of the team are my goals also."
This doesn't mean that Buitre is planning to let go of her spot in the first six anytime soon, however. Molde may return to the UP line-up as early as Saturday, when the Lady Maroons take on Far Eastern University in a crucial clash that has plenty of implications on the Final 4 picture.
But Buitre knows that she has made a case for more minutes with how she performed against UE. Thus, when asked how she would feel about returning to the bench, her response was short but swift.
"Well, let's cross that bridge when we get there."
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