MANILA, Philippines – In her first game back at the Mall of Asia Arena since 2016, Ateneo de Manila University superstar Alyssa Valdez made sure to deliver another superb game, even if the stakes were far lower this time around.
The last time that Valdez played in the Pasay venue in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 78 Finals, she scored 34 points and led the Lady Eagles to a come-from-behind victory over De La Salle University in Game 2 of the women’s volleyball Finals to force a do-or-die game.
Ateneo lost in Game 3 to the Lady Spikers, and it was not until over a year later that Valdez returned to MOA Arena to face a familiar foe. The Lady Eagles played the Lady Spikers in the “Battle of the Rivals,” a charity match aimed at raising funds for both school’s athletic programs, and once again, Valdez took charge for the Katipunan volleybelles.
The three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player torched the Lady Spikers for 36 points, 32 of which came on attacks, in another come-from-behind win. Valdez scored the match-winner in Ateneo’s 17-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13 win over La Salle in front of thousands of fans.
“We really enjoyed the game kanina talaga,” Valdez told reporters after the game. “It’s been a while since I played Ateneo-La Salle, and it’s been a while since we played together talaga as a team.”
In the charity match, Valdez reunited with former teammates Amy Ahomiro, Michelle Morente, Denden Lazaro, Ella de Jesus, Jhoana Maraguinot, Bea de Leon, and Jia Morado, who formed the core of their UAAP title teams in Seasons 76 and 77.
She also got the chance to reunite with Fille Cainglet-Cayetano, who was the captain of the Lady Eagles when Valdez entered Ateneo in Season 74 and in Season 75.
“Iba talaga ‘yung feeling when you play kasama ‘yung mga dati mong teammates,” said Valdez, who is coming off a 30-point performance for Creamline in the PVL Open Conference on Saturday. “You can’t really explain. Kami, we can’t really explain.”
“Pag tumingin ka sa likod, naka-smile lang,” she explained. “Pag tumingin ka sa harap, naka-smile lang. Pag nag-error, it doesn’t matter. We just play, because we really enjoy the game.”
Valdez feels that even their coach, Tai Bundit, took special pleasure in calling the shots for the team.
“Na-miss niya rin siguro na i-coach itong team na ito,” said Valdez of the Thai coach, who is credited with bringing the “heart strong” mantra to Ateneo. “He was really happy. Nagkaroon pa siya ng mga adjustments within the game.”
“Buong time, tumatawa lang kami,” she added. “It’s one way of catching up na rin.”
That they did it all for charity is a bonus for Valdez, who was a scholar at Ateneo before making a name for herself as one of the top volleyball players in the country.
“We’re just really happy na nag-enjoy kami, at naka-tulong pa kami,” she said. “La Salle really gave us a good fight. It’s not only for the scholars, I think, but for our school, for our pride, and for all the fans na pumunta talaga dito para manood.”
“For the bigger picture, sana matanggap ng mga scholars natin at makapag-aral sila ng maayos sa school,” Valdez also said. “We are wishing them the best of luck.”
Valdez is set to fly to Japan on Monday afternoon together with the national women’s volleyball team for an intensive training camp as part of their preparation for the AVC Senior Women’s Championship and the Southeast Asian Games in August.
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