No pressure, no nerves for Lady Eagles rookie Morado

Jane Bracher
Despite being just 18 years old, Julia Morado has held the Ateneo Lady Eagles together as their rookie setter. She says she feels no pressure heading into Saturday's decisive game against La Salle

WISE BEHIND HER YEARS. Ateneo rookie Julia Morado tips a point past La Salle's Aby Marano. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – It’s one thing to have a rookie libero, rookie blockers or rookie spikers in volleyball. But to have a rookie setter be the glue that holds an underdog team together in a spectacular Finals run? That’s plainly on a whole other level. 

Julia Morado, young as she is at only 18 years old, has been that glue for the Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles during their surprising run the entire Season 76 of UAAP Volleyball and in the Finals, where they’ve come just one win away from the championship.

The rookie setter feels no pressure about that whatsoever.

No naman. Dapat meron pero wala naman silang (team) pinapa-feel sa akin,” Morado spoke shyly, clearly still acclimating herself to all the attention and fanfare collegiate volleyball now enjoys. (No. There should be pressure but nobody is making me feel that way.)

I got used to it na nung first few games,” she said. “It’s not gonna help naman kasi di ba? I won’t be able to help the team kung magpapa-pressure ako.” (I got used to it already during the first few games. It’s not going to help, right? I won’t be able to help the team if I give in to pressure.)

(READ: Nothing to lose, everything to win for Ateneo Lady Eagles)

She definitely did not have any trace of nerves each time she took the court even in Game 1 of the Finals against 3-time defending champions and thrice-to-beat De La Salle University Lady Spikers, where she talled 40 excellent sets.

Her impeccable sets have paved the way for the Lady Eagles not only to achieve their goal of making the Final Four in a season of rebuilding, but she made sure Ateneo did much more than they intended.

They handed the dominant Lady Spikers their first loss of the entire season and even defeated them a second time in a win-or-go home Game 3 to book the deciding Game 4 on Saturday, March 15.

Morado shares the thoughts that keep her mind focused on the court: “More on kung paano ko mapapadali buhay ng spikers ko tsaka paano ko susundin yung pinapagawa ni coach.” (More on how I can make things easier for my spikers and how I can follow coach’s intstructions.)

During Game 2, her true value to the team was exposed when Ateneo succumbed to a 4-set defeat as the 5-foot-6 setter out of Colegio San Agustin Makati finished with 17 sets, a far cry from her Game 1 performance.

Julia Morado (center) surrounded by teammates Ella De Jesus (L) and Amy Ahomiro (R). Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

In Game 3, her 48 excellent sets were pivotal to helping the Lady Eagles live to fight another day. Morado is a huge reason why the Katipunan-based volleybelles are in a position to even defeat La Salle and capture the UAAP Volleyball title.

“Very overwhelmed,” the rookie remarked. “Kasi ever since nag Final Four kami okay na kami. Ang layo na ng inabot namin. Ngayon umabot kami ng Finals.” (Ever since we were okay with just the Final Four. We’ve come so far. Now we reached the Finals.)

The Finals experience itself is something Morado finds surreal not only because it’s all happening for her during her rookie year, but also because she was used to seeing Ateneo from a spectator’s vantage point. 

Morado shares she used to watch Ateneo in high school and also witnessed the Lady Eagles’ previous two cracks at a champsionship.

Her high school coach eventually got her connected with former Ateneo coach Roger Gorayeb and she was offered a slot on the team.

Now that she has the team’s fate in her very hands, the BS Psychology major is looking to “do it better, we’ll step up.”

But how is she able to keep her composure on the court, especially with the huge crowd either cheering for or jeering at her?

“We have to learn to control them (emotions). Kasi pag na-excite masyado magkakalat yung laro,” she explained what veterans in the team such as Alyssa Valdez advised her with regard to her emotions. “Pero pag composed and calm lang, steady yung laro.” 

(If you get too excited you won’t play well. But if you’re composed and calm, your game will be steady.)

Ferrer as inspiration

But Morado doesn’t only get advice from her veteran teammates. She also receives some much needed guidance from the former Lady Eagles star setter, whose shoes Morado is now tasked to fill, Jem Ferrer.

Dulo yung set para hindi mahirapan yung spikers. Variate, use your quickers. More plays,” were some of the lessons Morado picked up from her idol Ferrer, a member of the famed Fab Five that led Ateneo to two Finals appearances. (Set it towards the edge of the net so the spikers won’t have a hard time.)

Asked if matching what Ferrer left behind gives pressure to her, Morado gave a sincere answer.

“She has her own game. And I have my own,” Morado explained. “Kung anong kaya kong sundin from ate Jem gagawin ko. Kung anong kaya kong gawin on my own gagawin ko.” (Whatever I can learn from Jem I’ll do it. Whatever I can do on my own I’ll do it.)

She also added that Ferrer is a frequent visitor at practice, inspiring her more to be better.

Si Ate Jem, idol ko talaga siya. What can help me improve my game kukunin ko from her. Inspiration rin siya.” (Jem is really my idol. What can help me improve my game I’ll get from her. She’s my inspiration.)

Morado is only on her first year yet she has already cemented her place in coach Tai Bundit’s lineup. With her nerves of steel, she has been the stable force on the court for the Lady Eagles. 

Not even a do-or-die Game 3 going the distance of 5 sets – and a couple of deuces to boot – will rattle the young athlete.

On Saturday, Morado will be under the bright lights again guiding her mostly rookie teammates during the deciding Game 4, where a champion will be crowned no matter what. 

Morado will be setting up Valdez perfectly for one of her monster kills, she will be giving another rookie Michelle Morente confidence in her spikes by giving her many opportunities. She will chase after second balls and man the net as much as she can.

“Both teams back to zero. Pareho nang (Both are) do-or-die,” she said. “It’s up to whose heart is stronger now.”

Regardless of the Finals outcome, Morado is assured of an exciting and promising next 4 years orchestrating the Lady Eagles’ offense. And though she doesn’t know for sure what will happen to her in the coming years, she is certain of her ultimate goal.

“(I want to be) someone na mapapadali yung buhay ng team tapos sobrang mapapahirapan yung buhay ng kalaban.” (I want to be someone who will make life easy for my team and at the same time make life hell for our opponents.) –

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