Much of the credit is given to ace spiker Alyssa Valdez for Ateneo's first ever UAAP volleyball title but quite a few would argue that libero Dennise Michelle “Denden” Lazaro was just as important in the Lady Eagles' fairytale run to the top of the title at the expense of archrival La Salle.
Although playing on one healthy foot after sustaining a left ankle sprain following a bad fall in their Game 2 loss last week, the comely Lazaro gave her all notably in anchoring the Lady Eagles’ defense that propelled them to an emphatic 25-23, 26-24, 25-21 victory over the stunned Lady Spikers in their winner-take-all match on Saturday at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.
“I just have to do it for the team,” said Lazaro, who was named this season’s Best Receiver and Best Digger. “Ginawa ko lang ang pagiging libero ko and gave it all for our defense.”
True to her words, Lazaro served as the backbone of Ateneo’s defense in the title-clinching victory, coming through with 15 excellent digs and all but seven of the team’s 25 receptions while practically hustling for every ball recovery.
And all those exploits finally bore one golden fruit, something that she and Valdez failed to realize in their first two finals stints that ended with equally painful setbacks against the Lady Spikers.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said the 5-foot-5 Lazaro during the television interview to the delight of the Ateneo’s faithful from the stands. “Very fulfilling talaga dahil nakarating kami sa point na ‘to. Ang goal lang namin is to make it to the Final Four but our hardwork paid off.”
Valdez, the reigning league MVP who was also named the Finals MVP, also gamely shared their emotional moment with Lazaro during the awarding ceremony.
“Nag-usap kami ni Den at ang sabi ko ‘Oh my God! Hindi ko lubos maisip na tapos na ‘yung game at ‘yung season at naka-gold pa tayo.’ Nakuha pa namin ‘to dahil nagtyaga kami,” she said.
The way she, together with Lazaro and De Jesus, accepted the leadership role while improving with their rookie teammates also spelled a major factor in their shocking title run, according to Valdez, who also bagged this season’s Best Scorer and Best Server awards.
“This year, may responsibility kami nila Den at Ella na dalhin ‘yung mga rookies. Pero ‘yung buong team talaga nagdala kasi ginawa ng lahat ‘yung roles ng bawat isa,” she added.