Volley phenom happy to be back ‘home’

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Alyssa Valdez fires away a kill against Army’s Jovelyn Gonzaga in Game One. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Alyssa Valdez fires away a kill against Army’s Jovelyn Gonzaga in Game One. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Back in the spotlight and in the league where it all started, Ateneo star Alyssa Valdez was far from her fierce form, but her 25-point effort proved enough to help rally the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters to a stirring 16-25, 20-25, 26-24, 29-27, 18-16 reversal over Army in Game One of their best-of-three duel for the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Reinforced Conference crown last Saturday.

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Unsure whether Ateneo would give her the go-signal to rejoin Home Ultera after missing the entire elims and the semis, Valdez bucked lack of warm-up with an abundance of excitement and zeal to play again in the league that she has gratefully described as the one which had started her on the path to stardom.

“I’m home again,” said Valdez after spiking her return with a 22-kill feat despite being benched in the first set. “It feels right to always come back to the league that had greatly helped shape the path my volleyball career. My first exposure in the V-League and the succeeding ones greatly sharpened my skills and more than prepared me for what turned out to be my productive ongoing stints with Ateneo in the UAAP.”

Her pivotal roles in Ateneo’s back-to-back UAAP title romps over rival La Salle now stand as among the best-remembered chapters of Philippine volleyball history.

It was also in the Shakey’s V-League, in her first ever appearance, that her fan base started, initiated by a middle-aged businesswoman from Taytay who was more impressed by her warmth and humility than by her clear potentials at the time.

Not that Valdez had been away from the V-League that long. She was chosen MVP and Best Outside Spiker twice when PLDT won the Open Conference over Army last May and when Ateneo lost in the Collegiate Conference finals to National University last September. She was on Home Ultera’s lineup for this season-closing conference but was kept from playing by her UAAP beach volleyball campaign for Ateneo where she sustained a minor back injury.

She first appeared in the ongoing conference at the same time that Home Ultera introduced its two American imports – not to play against newcomer Kia Forte but to host an interview segment for GMA News TV Channel 11’s live coverage of the games.

But in the title series’ opener, the amiable spiker arrived with Ateneo coaches Tai Bundit and Parley Tupaz when her Home Ultera teammates were already doing stretching exercises off the court. At the time, she was not yet cleared by her school management to play, but she had brought her uniforms just to be ready.

A thunderous cheer erupted in the Arena when in the middle of the first set of the first game of the finals, she burst into view in full battle gear. Amid lung-busting cheers and hysterical screams, Valdez put in another of her by now patented Player-of-the-Game performances.

She was shut out understandably so when the Third Conference individual awards were handed out, but she can still go for the finals’ MVP this Sunday when she tries to carry the team again to another victory and a sweep of the championship with her throngs of fans expected to cheer for her again.

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