MANILA, Philippines -- Rookie sensation Eya Laure displayed incredible grit on Sunday, as she battled through pain in leading University of Santo Tomas (UST) to the finals of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
The Golden Tigresses were already ahead by two sets against defending champion De La Salle University when Laure suffered an awkward landing early in the third set. She stayed on the court, but it was clear that the rookie was playing in pain from that point on.
La Salle went on to force a fifth set, as Laure and the Golden Tigresses succumbed to their own errors. They committed 13 miscues in each of the third and fourth frames, after playing a relatively clean game in the early goings.
UST head coach Kungfu Reyes later admitted that they seriously contemplated subbing Laure out of the game in the third set, especially after she committed a service error that sparked the Lady Spikers' comeback.
"Parang mali ata na hindi namin napalitan si Eya, kasi para maka-recover din. Doon nag-start noong nag-commit ng service error. Then puro attack, negative na kami noong mga sumunod na rally. That's why naka-bwelo si La Salle," he said.
But leaving the game was never an option for Laure, especially not when it was clear that the Tigresses needed her to punch up their scoring. Their team captain, Sisi Rondina, was being contained, and Laure was the one who could consistently power through the Lady Spikers' net defense.
"Ang sinabi ni coach, 'Mamaya mo na 'yan i-inda, laruin mo muna kung kayo mong laruin. Mamaya mo na i-aray, pagka nasa dugout na. Pero ngayon, kung kaya mong ilaban'," said Laure after the game.
"Paulit-ulit niya akong tinatanong noon, 'Kaya mo pa ba?' Sa loob-loob ko, 'Andito na ako eh, aalis pa ba ako? Malay mo kailangan din ako ng mga teammates ko. Paano kung ibibihin ko 'tong nararamdaman ko. Ano 'yung natulong ko sa kanila?'" she added.
With that in mind, Laure gave herself no other option. "Doon na lang ako sa side na ilaban ko na 'to. Kesa naman lumaban sila, nakikita ko sila lang lumalaban," she said.
"Siyempre gusto ko, nakikita ko din 'yung sarili ko na kasama akong lumalaban para sa UST, kasama sila," she added.
The risk paid off in the fifth set, when Laure took over for the Golden Tigresses. She scored five points in the deciding frame, including the last two for UST as they took a 25-19, 25-19, 20-25, 23-25, 15-10 triumph.
With the win, the Tigresses advanced to the UAAP women's volleyball finals for the first time since Season 73, and ended La Salle's bid for a four-peat.
Laure finished with a career-best 25 points, including 21 kills.
"Entering this game nga po, in-orient na po kami nila coach na, 'Whatever it takes, we got each other's backs.' So ready kami sa mga adjustments din ng La Salle," said the rookie.
"In-orient kami ni Ate Sisi. Ni-remind niya kami na walang iwanan, no pressure kasi wala namang mawawala sa amin. Laruin lang natin kung ano ilalaro natin kasi andyan naman tayo para sa isa't isa," she added.
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