|Alyssa Valdez receives one of three awards she picked up this past UAAP season.|
This appears in the Tuesday March 17, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Alyssa Valdez: The girl from San Juan, Batangas.
by rick olivares
San Juan, Batangas is at best an hour and a half’s drive from Manila. It’s mostly an agricultural town yet it draws a lot of tourists for the white sand beach at Laiya.
It used to be that the town would shut down during Holy Week and when there’s a Manny Pacquiao fight. But in recent years? When native daughter Alyssa Valdez and her Ateneo teammates have a match on television, the world stops.
When there are brownouts? It becomes of great concern that the townsfolk will miss the game. Thank Heavens for technology that some don’t have to miss a match.
As a youngster, Alyssa watched her older brothers Kim Paulo and Nicko Lorenzo play volleyball for their local schools (she has a younger brother named Kian Bernan who just graduated from elementary school). “Nung minsan, nanonood siya sa mga kapatid niya nang tamaan siya ng bola,” relates her father Ruel with a chuckle. “Kapag iniisip ko baka dahil doon lalong nagka-interest siya sa volleyball.”
Young Alyssa threw herself into learning the game to better receive the ball and to be invited to play.
As early as fourth grade, she already stood out, leading her school, Libato Elementary School, to victory. By sixth grade, a coach from Manila went to see her and liked what he saw. That coach was UST high school girl’s coach Francis Vicente. He marveled at the young Batangueña’s raw talent and athleticism and believed her to be a lass of great promise. Vicente left his calling card with Alyssa’s parents in case they wanted to talk about their daughter studying in Manila.
In the meantime, Alyssa or “Ineng” as her parents lovingly call her, got better at the game.
The athleticism? Alyssa’s father thinks that it was from playing against her older brothers and other people that helped her spikes and jumping ability. He also surmises that she developed strong limbs early on from her daily chores of carrying pails of food to feed the several cows they owned.
During her sixth grade, the Valdez family made the trip to Manila to go to UST. “Buong pamily nagpunta,” recalled the father. “Parang excursion.”
That first trip to Asia’s oldest university was an eye opener. During practice, Vicente not only putting his wards through their paces but also at times raised his voice at sloppy execution and a cavalier approach to the game by some players.
Alyssa’s parents asked her if she was ready for a more intense kind of competition with bigger and stronger girls. Furthermore, studying in Manila meant being away from her family for a great length of time. “Ineng” nodded to signify her decision.
There began her “legend.” Along with Kim Fajardo, Dindin Santiago, Maru Banaticla, and Mia Hirotsuji, they won a championship for UST in the girls’ division.
Alyssa attracted a lot of attention that several Manila schools made entreaties to her parents to matriculate with them. One university offered a lot of money and incentives for her parents should Alyssa suit up for their school. Then Roger Gorayeb came calling. In his first year at Ateneo, he had seen Valdez play and he asked permission from the parents if he could drive up to San Juan to “ask for their daughter’s hand” as the father fondly remembered the unique pitch from the multi-titled coach.
Beset by all this attention, the Valdez’s sought the advice of Coach Vicente. The parents felt that they owed a lot to UST as they gave her an education and the opportunity to showcase her talents. “Ay huwag na ho ninyong isipin yun,” waved off Vicente. “Nasuklian niyo na ang UST nang mabigyan niya ng championship.”
Vicente, who would leave some months after for National University didn’t influence his players to follow him. “Sabi niya, desisyon namin yun,” recalled Valdez’ father. “Ano ba priority namin – pera o makapag-aral at makapagtapos siya?”
The elder Valdez asked Vicente one last time. “Kung kayo magde-desisyon, saan mo papapuntahin yung anak namin?”
“Ateneo,” decided Vicente without batting an eyelash. “Si Roger… kaibigan ko yan. Kung anong tiwala ibinigay niyo sa akin ibigay niyo rin sa kanya. Siya yung magaalaga sa anak ninyo.”
With Vicente’s blessing, the Valdezes made up their mind. Their “Ineng” was going to Loyola Heights.
Five years later, two V-League and two UAAP championships later, the Valdezes are amazed at what their daughter has achieved. They used to collect every newspaper clipping or online article of their “Ineng.” Now even the San Juan public officials do that for them. Friends, some of whom they have not talked to in a while because they have moved away from Batangas, routinely call or send pictures of Alyssa on Gatorade billboards, Fit ‘N Right ads, or images of fan adulation that go around social media.
The father is at a loss for words to describe everything. He can only shake his head in amazement and thank the Man Above for their good fortune. “Hindi ko alam kung anong salita and pwede kong gamitin pag nakikita ko ang mga tao nagmamahal kay Ineng,” said Mr. Valdez. “Sa dami ng mga taga-San Juan na gusto siya makita or mag-guest sa mga eksena dito, ang hirap mapagbigyan kasi minsan na lang siya makauwi rito. Kung kami nga gusto namin siya makasama ng matagal pero medyo mahirap dahil sa mabigat din yung schedule niya sa school at sa training.”
Valdez isn’t San Juan’s only export. The municipality has given the Philippines two renowned military officers in Renato De Villa and Leandro Mendoza as well as former World Boxing Council Secretary-General and former PBA Commissioner Rodrigo Salud.
Now there are all these young girls playing volleyball who want jump as high and spike as hard as Alyssa.
With the UAAP volleyball season over, the town expects to go on extended vacation come May when Manny Pacquiao fights Floyd Mayweather Jr. and when their latest and favorite daughter leads the Philippine National Team in the Women’s Under-23 Championships.
As for Ruel Valdez? He still cannot find the words to express the excitement surrounding his daughter.
He just nodded and smiled.