Her awkward posture belies it. But once she steps on the court and makes contact with the ball, people instantly know that Alyssa Valdez is every bit an athlete. The coliseum barker calls her name, and her supporters go wild. Why not, when she has proven this season that she is the steady, dominant force for the Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles.
As of this writing, Valdez has already amassed 254 points, making her the league-leading scorer. Her closest rival and high school teammate Din-Din Santiago is at a “far” 196.
“Hindi naman sa nagdodominate,” Valdez told PinoyExchange.com “Anduon na ako sa situation na ‘yun e, so why not give my best?”
Fans shriek whenever they see Valdez. One afternoon, after coming out of the locker room, Valdez was welcomed by a group of girls screaming to have their pictures taken with her. One time, a fan even asked her to put her autograph on the former’s car. Despite the attention, Valdez says she has yet to get used to the admiration from her supporters.
“I always feel that everything is just a dream,” Valdez says.
On her own?
The Lady Eagles raced to a 6-0 start. Valdez was in the forefront of that history-clinching feat for the team. She, together with graduating stars Dzi Gervacio, Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer, and Gretchen Ho seemed unbeatable. That was, until they collided with another powerhouse, the De La Salle University Lady Spikers.
In that game, the Lady Eagles rolled to a piping hot start, only to lose steam in the end, and surrender a 26-28, 21-25, 25-13, 25-21, 15-13 decision. What followed was even more tragic.
With Cainglet sidelined due to a right ankle sprain, the second-year player found herself in the position to lead her team on the court. But even her vaunted scoring ability could not stop the Lady Eagles from experiencing a depressing three-game losing streak.
“Honestly, I was super frustrated. “ Valdez said. “Not because I was the only one playing well but because I could not do anything to help my teammates.”
Valdez’ efforts amid the team’s misfortunes have prompted some fans to call Ateneo a one-woman team, dismissing the performance put up by the other players. Some observers speculate that there might be a rift among the players. Some say that Valdez has overtaken the “Fab Four” who have established themselves in the league for five years.
“For me, I have not overtaken them,” the third year Psychology student clarified. “We are just playing as a team.”
“If my teammates naman are not there, how can I play?”
“Pero I am thankful pa din to those people who believe in me,” Valdez said. “And sa Fab Four, they are also there to guide and support me and most especially, they trust me. Kaya din siguro I can do the things I do on the court because of that trust.”
Some people are also quick to point out that while Valdez is a beast in offense, she is a liability in defense. Valdez says that she takes the criticisms in stride.
“I am thankful for all those people (critics) because I get to know what I need to improve pa and correct,” Valdez says.
Despite Ateneo’s three-game losing streak, Valdez was able to make a record for herself. In their second round meeting, Ateneo lost a thrilling 22-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-16, 15-10 contest to the Adamson University Lady Falcons. Valdez, however, chalked in 35 points—the biggest individual scoring output in a single game in the UAAP. Filling the void left by Cainglet, Valdez practically scored on all fronts in that game. She unleashed 31 spikes, three blocks, and an ace. She says that while playing, she was unaware that she already set a record.
“After the game, my teammates were teasing me,” Valdez recounted “But I believe that I made those 35 points because of them talaga. I guess that is one of my achievements ngayong college.”
Valdez is known to give her all every game. This would sometimes lead her to suffer from cramps late in the match—a sight already common to her teammates and her family.
“Normal na ‘yan kay Alyssa,” Gorayeb told reporters after Ateneo’s first round victory against Adamson where Valdez suffered from cramps. “All out kasi siya lagi.”
Valdez says that her family just reminds her to always rehydrate and “eat lots of bananas.”
As the league’s top scorer, third best spiker, and fifth best server, there is no denying Valdez has cemented her stature as one of the best players in her team and in the league. She and Gorayeb, however, credit this success to team effort.
“Siyempre, valuable si Alyssa. Kita naman sa output niya e,” Gorayeb said. “Last year pa naman siya gumagawa, mas lumakas lang siya ngayon.”
“Pero lahat sila (Lady Eagles) mahalaga,” Gorayeb added. “I don’t want to give credit to a single player.”
“I really don’t want to be named as the biggest star kasi we are all making efforts to win every game,” Valdez said.
Ateneo has done a good job in forming a team full of star players. But in that constellation of stars, Valdez definitely shines the brightest.