Ateneo's Alyssa Valdez finally wins the medal she covets most

Chris Lagunzad

Putting one over a seemingly invincible La Salle seemed to be a tough task. Beating the ‘four-peat’-seeking Lady Spikers in three games in the grandest stage looked to be a more daunting one.

But the “heart-strong” Lady Eagles of Ateneo managed to pull off in historic fashion what was considered as an improbable in the UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball finals and star spiker Alyssa Valdez could not help but recall how grueling yet fruitful their journey was.

“We started from the bottom and now we’re here,” she said with a big smile, moments after helping Ateneo complete its rise to the top with an impressive 25-23, 26-24, 25-21 victory over favored La Salle in their winner-take-all match on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

ALSO READ: How Ateneo won the the UAAP Finals

Facing their fifth do-or-die match this season since the step-ladder format that saw them defied odds against No. 4 Adamson U Lady Falcons and second-ranked National U Bulldogs that enjoyed a twice-to-beat edge, the third-seed Lady Eagles showed tremendous poise and sheer determination anew to topple the top-ranked Lady Spikers in stunning style and claim their first-ever championship since joining the league in 1978.

And although she was named the Finals MVP following a 21-point performance highlighted by three booming spikes that sealed the deal, Valdez refused to claim all the credits, stressing the team’s collective efforts and Thai coach Anusorn “Tai” Bundit’s strong-willed character served as the keys.

“Everybody played really well. Nag-work talaga sa’min ‘yung paglalaro ng walang expectations masyado. Heart strong at maging happy lang habang naglalaro,” said the 5-foot-9 spiker who was also named as this season’s tournament MVP, Best Scorer, and Best Server.

“Everyone really contributed. Sobrang humble nilang lahat (her teammates). Everyone is willing to learn and improve their skills kahit nakakainis na si Coach Tai minsan sa training. Sobrang nakaka-proud talaga.”

Definitely. Aside from snapping the Lady Spikers’ 30-game winning streak behind their Game 1 victory and also avenged a pair of finals losses the past two seasons, the Lady Eagles also fully negated their rivals’ twice-to-win, thrice-to-beat advantage that only a few believed to be doable.

Count Bundit among them.

“Malaking factor talaga ‘yung pagdating ni coach sa’min this season,” said Valdez of the ever-cheerful Thai native who took over the reins from Roger Gorayeb in what was tipped to be a rebuilding period that turned out into a golden year for the Lady Eagles.

“Kapag nakikita namin na tumatakbo siya after we score, push lang kami. Si coach kasi hindi magsasawa na i-push ka. Kahit anong mangyari, sasabihin lang niya sa’yo na ‘You’re a good player. 'If you believe you can win, you will win. So iniisip namin ‘Bakit ka magda-doubt sa sarili mo kung 'yung coach mo may tiwala sa iyo,'” added the former University of Santo Tomas high school standout.

“Pati ‘yung meditation namin after every set, nag-work rin. Kasi, yung skills one percent na lang ‘yan. Ninety-nine percent, psychological na 'yan," said Valdez. "No one expected us to be in the finals. Nag-work sa’min ‘yung (mantra) na playing without any pressure. Alam namin na kaya namin malampasan ang do-or-die matches dahil sa training pala ni coach namamatay na kami.”