Nothing is permanent, especially in collegiate sports.
After playing pivotal roles in Ateneo’s past two championships, libero Denden Lazaro and open hitter Ella De Jesus have hung up their Ateneo jerseys for good, each exhausting their playing eligibility. The Lady Eagles have no choice but to move on.
Luckily, Ateneo have a wealth of talent on deck. The departure of Lazara and De Jesus leaves a gaping hole in the Ateneo floor defense, but Ateneo’s holdovers offer daunting physical gifts.
In their opening day win against NU Lady Bulldogs, Ateneo debuted their tallest lineup in years. Their lead middle blocker the past two seasons, Amy Ahomiro, has shifted to the opposite hitter slot, allowing sophomore Maddie Madayag to occupy the middle. Along with Alyssa Valdez, Jho Maraguinot, Bea De Leon, and Jia Morado, Ateneo’s starting six stands at 5’8″ average height.
Madayag showed off her impeccable form, scoring 13 points off five attacks, five blocks, and three aces.
Having gotten barely any playing time in her rookie campaign, Madayag doesn’t mind the pressure of starting for a championship team, emphasizing that she goes through every challenge with her teammates behind her.
“I just do my best. Coach Tai doesn’t want us to mind what other people are saying about us. He just wants us to focus sa training. We just want to take the season one game at a time and we just finished our first game,” said Madayag.
Gizelle Tan has taken over libero duties for the decorated defensive specialist Lazaro. She took a while to get into stride but finished the match strong.
Having exclusively played setter since she was in second grade, Tan’s transition to a backline defender is going to be reasonably tough, especially in the earlier matches.
“I had first game jitters kanina because this is really my first time playing libero,” said Tan. “They first transitioned me to a libero right after the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference.” Tan won the Best Setter plum of the said tournament.
“As a setter, I only really had to play defense on one side of the court. Now I not only have to dig, kailangan ko na rin rumeceive,” the fourth-year player, Tan described her transition.
Reigning MVP and team captain Alyssa Valdez praised the effort of her teammates. “I’m really proud of them. They’re really hardworking; kung makikita lang niyo lang sila sa training, talagang nakikipagpatayan sila para sa bola. I’m glad to see their hard work is paying off. I just hope it continues.”
Both of Ateneo’s new starters, however, admit that they do still miss the presence of Lazaro and De Jesus on the court.
“Before we really didn’t have too much trouble getting digs and receives. Now, we really have to adjust as a team and focus,” said Tan.
“Both of them were just really confident and happy when they played to the point na madada ka din. Siguro that’s going to be what we miss about them most,” admitted Madayag
Ateneo next face the UST Tigresses on Sunday, February 7, 2 p.m. at the FilOil Flying V Centre.