It took multiple painful years of hard work and rebuilding, but the Ateneo Blue Eagles finally clinched the elusive UAAP Men’s Volleyball title in UAAP 77. For multiple members of the Ateneo Men’s Volleyball program who had toiled and stuck to the program for years, winning a UAAP title seemed out of the question. But for then rookie Janjan Rivera, winning was a way of life.
The Cavite native had won multiple titles at the Immaculate Conception Academy while also strutting his stuff in other local tournaments with his now teammate and fellow Cavite native, Ish Polvorosa. Rivera played in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Palarong Pamabansa, bagging the MVP award in 2013.
After Polvorosa told Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro about his spunky friend, Ateneo recruited Rivera. “It’s been great,” said Rivera about his frosh year in Loyola. “I could have gone anywhere and still played volleyball, I really love the sport. But to get a chance to study in Ateneo and get a great education, mahirap palagpasin.”
It didn’t take long for Janjan to make his presence felt with the Blue Eagles. Before Janjan came, Ateneo had troubles when star open hitter Marck Espejo rotated to the back row. With Rivera, the Ateneo offense always had a reliable option on the open hitter spot. Although Rivera was shorter than opposing wingers, he earned the opponent’s respect with his athleticism, defensive capabilities, and radiant confidence. Some even say that he is the Men’s Volleyball teams version of Ella De Jesus.
Eventually, the Blue Eagles stormed their way into the Finals where they faced the back-to-back titlists, NU Bulldogs. Undaunted, Rivera helped pull Ateneo to a sweep and the proud University’s first UAAP Men’s Volleyball title in history.
“I was so happy. It was first year in the UAAP and ‘yun agad ‘yung narating ng team. It was hard to believe at first, but I was just really happy for everyone especially those na matagal nang nasa team,” Rivera shared.
This season, the Blue Eagles added several key pieces, including for UAAP Junior’s MVP, Ron Medalla who plays the same position as Rivera. In the on-going Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference, Coach Oliver has opted to rotate his players and give everyone, especially his rookies, as much exposure as he can. This, however meant less playing time for Rivera but the sophomore isn’t at all irked by it.
“Diskarte ‘yun ni Coach. It’s not about competition between me and Ron. I just take it as a challenge. Kung anuman ‘yung maging desisyon ni Coach, it’s our responsibility to execute,” Rivera expressed saying that he and Ron have formed a tight relationship. “We’re very close friends. Pareho kasi kaming dormers [they both stay at Ateneo’s athlete’s dorm]. Kapag may problema ako, I talk to him and he does the same with me. Madali naman kami magkaintidhan since pareho kami ng posisyon,” the open hitter added.
With Marck Espejo playing at such a high-level and racking up awards left and right, people have a tendency to think that Ateneo relies too heavily on Espejo – that without the Marikina native, Ateneo would have less success. Rivera doesn’t mind this kind of thinking.
“In Ateneo we’re a team. We really value teamwork and we practice really hard to develop ‘yung chemistry namin. It’s fine if people think that way. Sobrang galling talaga ni Marck, siya ‘yung ace namin. Pero we take on every challenge as a team,” Rivera remarked.
Ateneo now faces a tough challenge as they face-off with the new-look NU Bulldogs in the inaugural Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Title with Game One of the best-of-three kicking off at the San Juan Arena on Sunday September 20.
“We’re really gonna train and prepare for them. For sure, they’re gonna do the same and hindi nila gagawing madali para sa amin. We’re just going to train well and go from there,” Janjan closed.