|No, Jia Morado isn't taking a jump shot. But she's channeling Magic Johnson on the Ateneo Lady Eagles' road to a title.|
And the setter shall lead the Lady Eagles to the Promised Land
by rick olivares pic by joseph nocos
Following the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ three-set demolition of a free falling University of the Philippines Fighting Lady Maroons, setter Jia Morado pointed to head coach Tai Bundit. They two exchanged congratulations then the Ateneo playmaker returned to the court to celebrate with her teammates.
Several months ago, during the Lady Eagles’ march to the V-League Collegiate Conference Finals, the team crossed over from the Philsports Arena to Capital Commons where the team celebrated middle hitter Bea De Leon’s birthday. The team captain at that time was Mich Morente. Yet immediately after dinner, Bundit called Morado over. They talked briefly – about practice schedules and what they thought needed improvement in the Lady Eagles’ over-all performance.
Following the failed three-peat drive of the previous UAAP season, Bundit and even the late Arthur Lim, from the team’s sponsor, Rebisco, agreed that if the Lady Eagles wanted to rebound in a big way in the post-Alyssa Valdez era, the setter needed to take up the mantle of leadership.
During the second round loss to UP in the past UAAP season, as the team filed out of the locker room of the FilOil Flying V Centre, few people stayed behind. A few team officials, Valdez who was being consoled by her father, and Morado. Then in her junior year, Morado took in the scene as Valdez collapsed into her father’s arms with the weight of her shoulders after taking in a second consecutive loss (they fell to La Salle to close the first round then to UP to open the second round). The setter was the last person out of the locker room.
During that time, Morado didn’t speak because she felt it might be out of place since she wasn’t the team captain. But clearly, the setter was ready to take on the mantle of leadership. She was already the engine that drove the Lady Eagles forward; to two UAAP championships and back-to-back V-League Collegiate first runner-up finishes. Unknown to most, during the last UAAP Finals, Morado was playing hurt. Yet, there was no hint of her ailment.
Last UAAP season, after the first round, Maddie Madayag was the best server (Valdez was third best) and La Salle’s Kim Fajardo was on top of the best setter list. Morado also had 24 points.
This Season 79, relatively healthy, with renewed team unity and focus, Morado has been the one constant as her teammates groped for form and consistency. She’s currently the best server and the best setter and now has 32 points (she finished with 5 against UP to hike her total to 37).
The fourth year Ateneo setter is certainly making a case for being named as season Most Valuable Player. The last setter to accomplish that was FEU’s Wendy Semana who turned the trick during the Fab Five’s rookie year.
Watching Morado play is like watching Magic Johnson orchestrate the famed Showtime offense of the Los Angeles Lakers. She bends the team to her will while sending opposing defenses into varying states of confusion. She isn’t the athlete that Kim Fajardo – a mean setter herself – is; hence, the Johnson comparison.
The Ateneo version of Magic-to-Worthy-to-Byron-to-AC-to-Kareem is Morado-to-Maraguinot-to-Morente-to-DeLeon-to-Tolentino-to-Madayag. Now those are a lot of weapons.
It too, has been all about peaking at the right time. And now, the Lady Eagles who many did not even consider to compete for the crown are atop the standings.
Prior to the return bout versus UP, it was considered that the Fighting Lady Maroons would use the season and collegiate career-ending injury to libero Pia Gaiser as an emotional battle cry. More than that, there was an urgency to winning as UP was on a three-game slide that coincidentally began after that first round loss to Ateneo.
However, the Lady Eagles for the most part of the entire match, never allowed their Katipunan neighbors to gain an emotional foothold that would re-ignite their missing confidence. They played better floor defense and that helped Morado set their offense as she shifted around UP’s defenders. She cleverly orchestrated Ateneo’s offense and for good measure, finished off UP in the second set with an ace and on match point, a crafty drop shot that should merit a nod for play of the week let alone the entire season.
Whatever the state of mind of the Fighting Lady Maroons, the Lady Eagles were sharper this time around if not more clinical.
In the first round (Gaiser was a non-factor in that match), UP scored 54 points. In this second round, they finished with 44.
The ironic thing about Ateneo being 7-1 is that they are only fifth best in blocking, third best in serving, seventh in digging, second in setting, and sixth in receiving. Hitting peak and stride they have yet to do.
And they’ll have their wizard of a setter leading them.