Ateneo's Lazaro displays spirit of a warrior in UAAP volleyball
MANILA, Philippines - The libero in volleyball doesn't usually get much fanfare.
But on Saturday, March 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Ateneo Lady Eagles libero Denden Lazaro drew the attention of the entire Blue gallery as she marched back onto the playing court in the third set of Game 2 during the UAAP Season 76 Finals against 3-time defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers.
Playing on her fourth year, Lazaro sprained her left ankle early in the opening set as she tried to chase the ball and keep it alive.
She left the game right after that, virtually crippling Ateneo's floor defense.
The Lady Eagles eventually succumbed to a first set 25-14 drubbing and an ensuing 25-20 second frame setback.
"Basically, siya (Lazaro) yung buhay ng team namin kasi sa kanya nagsa-start lahat eh," said the newly crowned Most Valuable Player Alyssa Valdez. "Sobrang laking factor ni Den na nawala siya. Nawawalan kami ng play sa harap and nawala game plan namin."
(Basically, she's the life force of the team because everything starts with her. Losing Den was a big factor. We lost our play in front and our game plan.)
With the Lady Eagles' backs against the wall and with their offense unable to operate fluidly without a good receive, Lazaro returned to the game in the third set, bringing the crowd to their feet.
"(I was) super determined," she told Rappler. "Pinilit ko lang talaga." (I just forced myself.)
Her return seemed to cause an emotional boost to her teammates as they rallied to stay alive and overcame La Salle in that set, 25-19.
Lazaro went against the advice of her physical therapist and fought through the pain. She was digging and running after the ball on one good foot.
The Best Receiver and Best Digger finished with 11 excellent digs for the Lady Eagles.
"Sabi nung PT huwag na lang para to preserve yung energy for the next game," she shared. "But I wanted to play, I wanted to help the team out. So pinilit ko lang talaga to play." (The PT said I shouldn't play to preserve my energy for the next game. But I wanted to play, I wanted to help the team out. So I forced myself to play.)
Coming back into the game, Lazaro had several things she wanted to accomplish.
"Calm my teammates down," she said. "Focus on the game, hwag masyadong ma-overwhelm sa crowd. Just focus on the game para manalo kami." (Focus on the game, don't be too overwhelmed with the crowd. Just focus on the game so we could win.)
But she wasn't able to bring her team to victory. The team's renewed energy stemming from her return was short-lived.
The Lady Eagles bowed down to the Lady Spikers in Set 4, 26-24, putting themselves on the brink of another failed Finals appearance.
With the win, La Salle needs only one more victory to secure their fourth straight title. While Ateneo, due to the step ladder format, will still need to beat their opponents twice.
"Game 3 paghahandaan pa namin lalo yung La Salle. Based sa game now mas lumakas pa lalo yung palo nila, mas malakas yung service nila. Mas mautak sila in this game compared to the last one," said Lazaro, who didn't even realize how she changed the complexion of the game for her squad even for just a while.
"We have to work on our reception, blocking, actually lahat ng aspects ng game namin dapat paghandaan pa namin."
(We will prepare more for La Salle in Game 3. Based on today's game their spikes were much stronger, and so was their service. They were much smarter in this game compared to the last one. We have to work on our reception, blocking, actually all aspects of our game.)
Game 3 will be played on Wednesday, March 12 at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com