MANILA, Philippines – No one could blame Eya Laure for shedding tears after University of Santo Tomas (UST) lost to Ateneo de Manila University in the finals of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
The Tigresses had one hand on the trophy, having won Game 1 of the best-of-3 series. But they lost the second game in four painful sets, with Laure suffering an ankle injury in Set 3. With Laure at less than 100%, the Lady Eagles won the deciding Game 3 in straight sets.
Laure – the Rookie of the Year – repeatedly apologized to UST head coach Kungfu Reyes, who has been her mentor since she was in high school.
"'Yung bata, medyo iniiyakan ako. Sorry, kasi nga first runner-up na naman," said Reyes.
Before moving up to UST's senior team, Laure and the Junior Tigresses settled for second place in the girls' volleyball tournament for four straight years. Each time, they bowed to National University, despite Laure's best efforts.
In her first season in the women's division, she once again finished with a silver medal.
Reyes, however, explained to Laure that in playing through her injury, in giving her all despite a swollen ankle, she showed that she had the heart of a champion.
"Sabi ko, ibang level na 'to," said Reyes. "'Yung heart mo, 'yung puso mo, hindi matatawaran. Doon pa lang champion na tayo, lalong lalo ka na."
The injury that Laure suffered was unfortunate and untimely, and it clearly had an impact on the young player. She only had 10 points in their loss in Game 3, and committed 11 attack errors.
Still, it was Laure who fired up UST to make a final stand, coming up with big hits in the closing stretch of the third frame. Ateneo simply had a response for them every single time, however. Maddie Madayag came up with back-to-back hits to bring the Lady Eagles to match point, before Jules Samonte clinched the title with an off-the-block hit.
"Sabi ko, next time huwag ka magpa-injury. Na-injury eh. Medyo naiba 'yung output niya, 10 points lang. Hindi ganoon 'yung laro," Reyes said of his rookie ace.
But there were no questions about Laure's competitiveness and heart, nor her desire to play for UST.
"Kung sa puso at sa puso lang, champion na 'tong batang 'to. Kung kaya niyang tiisin, titiisin," the coach said.
"Great future ahead kasi may mga ganyan tayong player na nakikipaglaban talaga kahit anong sakit. Kaya lang, 'pag hindi na kaya, hindi na namin isusugal," he added.
Laure admitted afterward that she was far from 100% in Game 3, but had no intention of sitting the game out. "Laban lang kung laban," she said.
They may have failed to end UST's title drought – their last title was in Season 72 – but Laure takes comfort in how they once again united their community.
"Noong nanonood kami ng games nila ate, kumbaga hindi ganito kadami 'yun eh," said Laure. "Actually pangarap ko lang makita itong crowd na ito, 'yun lang talaga."
"Yun lang 'yung pinangarap ko noon, walang place, walang ano, basta yung suporta ng UST community kasi 'yun 'yung medyo nawala nun so parang 'yun 'yung pinangarap ko na sana bumalik sila," she added.
"Sobrang taba ng puso naming lahat kasi bumalik nga sila at nag tiwala and ayun kahit sila nakikipaglaban talaga."
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