21-year-old from Guimaras named Shakey’s V-League Open Conference MVP

Noel Zarate

THE ARENA, San Juan City—It was the first time in recent memory that the recipient of the Shakey’s V-League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award showed unabashed emotions as the Philippine Army’s high-energy utility spiker Jovelyn Gonzaga led the awardees feted in the ongoing Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.

The ceremonies, which took place at the conclusion of the initial encounter in the Battle for Third between the Lady Troopers and the Philippine Air Force and preceding Game 1 of the championship series between Smart-Maynilad and Cagayan Valley, was witnessed by a phalanx of media members and the almost five thousand paying patrons in attendance. It was captured on television by official broadcast network GMA News TV.

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Gonzaga, a product of the Central Philippine University (CPU) in Iloilo City and a native of Jordan, Guimaras, shed tears of joy as she was awarded the MVP trophy by Sports Vision Chairman Moying Martelino and Shakey's operations chief Rommel Ng. She became the fifteenth recipient of the plum recognizing the consistency of excellence brought about by the results a player contributes to her team in attaining victories. The 21-year-old national team member for beach volleyball bested the likes Cagayan Valley’s prolific Thai import Kannika Thipachot, Rising Suns’ skipper Angge Tabaquero, Air Force’s Judy Caballejo and Meralco’s Chinese reinforcement Coco Wang for the accolade and was evidently overwhelmed with emotion upon realizing her achievement for the conference.

The 5’8” Gonzaga averaged a little over twenty points a game and is in the top five in five different statistical categories. But perhaps the most remarkable feat was that she became the catalyst for a Philippine Army squad loaded with incredible talent and with veterans that have mostly served as members of the national team at some point in their careers. The Lady Troopers pride themselves on being a solid unit for the past five years, but yet this newbie turned out to be a distinct game-changer for the seasoned squad. She is the youngest member of the team and only joined the team in June of this year, but has been an integral part of Army’s winning schemes ever since.

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Prior to her stint with the Lady Troopers, Gonzaga joined forces with CPU teammate Fiola Ceballos to represent the Philippines in the beach volleyball competitions in the recently concluded Universaide Games in Russia.

She also took home the award for Best Attacker; a recognition given to a player whose attack proficiency translates to positives in terms of percentage.

“Jovs”—as she is called by her peers—made her Shakey’s V-League debut in 2009 as a skinny, nondescript guest player for the University of St. La Salle (USLS), Bacolod alongside national youth standout Patty Orendain. Gonzaga was fresh out of high school, aged 17 while Orendain—who would go on to play college ball for the Lady Stingers—was 15.

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At that time, USLS Head Coach Roger Banzuela was already speaking highly of the talent level possessed by Gonzaga.

“If she stays on course, she will be a great player,” Banzuela told me then about the budding volleybelle, in the vernacular. “She’s long, powerful and very smart. She’s left-handed, too.”

Joining Gonzaga in the winners’ circle during the individual awards rites were Thipachot (Best Scorer), former League MVP and Meralco Power Spikers captain Maureen Penetrante-Ouano (Best Blocker—her third trophy in this department and first in eight years), another former league MVP and Gonzaga’s Army teammate Mary Jean balse (Best Server—her third award in this category), Smart-Maynilad’s crafty libero Melissa Gohing (Best Digger), Meralco libero Jen Reyes (Best Receiver—her second feting of this recognition), and Cagayan Valley’s phenomenal playmaker Phomla Soraya (Best Setter).

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Special awards were bestowed on Army’s Rachel Anne Daquis (SOS Award) and Smart-Maynilad’s Alyssa Valdez (Fit Award).

Congratulations to all the very deserving winners. You are all now part of Shakey’s V-League history.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com