Young volleyball stars grateful for legends' praise, eager to improve

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 17 2021 01:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 17 2021 01:57 PM

Faith Nisperos in action for Team Rebisco in the Asian Women's Club Volleyball Championship. Eddy Phongphakthana, Asian Volleyball Confederation.
Faith Nisperos in action for Team Rebisco in the Asian Women's Club Volleyball Championship. Eddy Phongphakthana, Asian Volleyball Confederation.

MANILA, Philippines -- They may have already played at the international level, but up-and-coming volleyball stars Faith Nisperos and Mhicaela Belen couldn't help but succumb to their inner "fangirl" after receiving praise from some of the game's best.

Belen and Nisperos made their senior debut for the Philippines in the AVC Asian Women's Club Volleyball Championship earlier this month, with both players suiting up for Team Rebisco. For most of the players, it was their first taste of action since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down virtually all sports in the Philippines.

It was thus understandable that the team endured growing pains; they failed to win a single game and finished last in the seven-team tournament. Yet the performance of the young guns -- including Nisperos and Belen -- drew praise, with some of the country's top players such as Alyssa Valdez and Denden Lazaro taking note of their game.

Valdez co-signed a tweet by fellow Ateneo de Manila University alum Amy Ahomiro, who said that Nisperos -- a current Lady Eagle -- is a "powerhouse." 

Valdez also praised Belen, the youngest member of the team at 19, while Lazaro lauded the incoming National University player's all-around game.

Both Nisperos and Belen were delighted at the commendation but they also point out that the approval from the legends of the game only shows how much more they have to work on.

"Of course, 'di na po mawawala 'yun, the fan girl inside me," said Nisperos, who played just two games as a rookie for Ateneo before the UAAP canceled games due to the pandemic. "'Di na po mawawala 'yun, and 'yun nga po, it's really flattering."

"But at the same time, sometimes naiisip ko na I kinda don't deserve it, kasi alam kong I can do more pa," she admitted. "I know na kailangan ko pa i-improve 'to."

"I'm very flattered, thank you po. Thank you po," Nisperos said. "But, alam ko sa sarili ko na I can do more. But thank you, ganoon po. Ganoon 'yung feeling, always."

Mhicaela Belen celebrates after scoring for Team Rebisco. Eddy Phongphakthana, Asian Volleyball Confederation.
Mhicaela Belen celebrates after scoring for Team Rebisco. Eddy Phongphakthana, Asian Volleyball Confederation.

For Belen, reading what Lazaro said about her got her feeling giddy. The Asian club tournament was her first official game since November 2019, when she wrapped up a glittering high school career with another championship -- and an MVP trophy -- for Nazareth School of National University. 

It was NU libero Jennifer Nierva who told Belen of Lazaro's tweet, as the teenager did not immediately check her social media accounts.

"Pinakita niya sa akin, sabi niya, 'Bella, nag-tweet si Ate Denden.' Eh 'di noong nakita ko po 'yun, ako naman po, kinilig din po ako," said Belen. 

"Kinilig din po kasi siyempre, si Ate Denden na po 'yun, Iron Eagle po 'yun," she added, referring to the nickname that Lazaro earned during her remarkable career with Ateneo.

Yet much like Nisperos, Belen is only too aware that she has a long way to go. The open hitter is the first to admit that she was extremely nervous heading into the first match, and only settled down after getting her first hit of the game.

"Sabi ko, 'yung game po namin noon, parang sabi ko, hindi pa po siya 'yung -- like kay Ate Faith nga -- hindi pa po siya 'yung best ko," said Belen. "Parang meron pa po akong need i-improve, para po mas umayos 'yung game ko."

Nisperos believes that their stint in the AVC club tournament will go a long way towards their improvement, even if they failed to win a game in the competition. Simply playing against the best clubs in the region -- including eventual champions Altay of Kazakhstan -- was an experience they are grateful for.

"Grabe, when we were back in NU, we were only thinking about this, na gusto naming umabot sa ganitong level," said Nisperos, who won high school titles with Nierva and Belen in National U before playing for Ateneo in the collegiate level.

"Actually, 'yung training namin, 'yung mindset namin dati with Coach Babes (Castillo), hindi lang naman pang-local eh. We were training for international competitions talaga," she added. "We're grateful na right now, ito nandito na nga kami."

Watch more on iWantTFC