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From Rookie to Captain, Jewel Lai is in familiar, Nerve-Wracking Territory

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The UP Lady Maroons sent shockwaves through the UAAP last season when they actually looked like a powerful volleyball team after years of settling for mediocre finishes. Had the team remained healthy through the entire season, the Lady Maroons might have booked a ticket back to the final four. Still, the Lady Maroons had plenty to hang their hats on with the way the team persisted through adversity.

Amongst the rising stars on the Lady Maroons’ roster, rookie Setter Jewel Lai barely got any attention or headlines. A steadying force, who already proved that she was in the top half of the UAAP’s best starting setters, Lai provided the Lady Maroons with the setter they had been searching years for, and allowed wiry Nicole Tiamzon to slide back to her optimal position, open hitter.

With UP’s stalwart veterans sitting out the ongoing SVL to nurse their respective injuries, Jewel Lai is making the seemingly immediate shift from bunso to ate after being named the team’s captain for the tournament. Amongst UP’s mostly rookie starting six, Lai has been a figure of stability for her fresh-faced colleagues. The setter admits that it does help that she already captained a Jerry Yee (UP Head Coach) team in high school.

“Nakakaba pa rin po,” the sophomore retorted. “First time ko pa rin mag-captain sa college so kinakapa ko pa rin po. Kailangan ko maging ate sa loob ng court. Kailangan ako ‘yung mag-adjust para sa kanila (rookies).”

Lai’s role as a setter, usually the team’s most vocal and versatile player, has also helped her ease into her newfound, albeit temporary, role as the team captain.

“Mas okay na ‘yung first ball namin ngayon kumpara last year. Mas madali na gumawa ng play ngayon,” said Lai when asked for her thoughts on her team’s growth over the off-season.

Stumbling in their first match against the gargantuan Lady Bulldogs, the young UP team responded with a decisive victory over PUP the following week. Setting for rookies like Maristella Layug and Ysa Molde, Lai’s setting numbers haven’t dipped as she continues to make the UP offense chug along regardless of who is on the court with her.

If or when the Lady Maroons finally experience the long romanticized glory of UP’s volleyball past, let it be known that it started when Jerry Yee brought his system and his prized setter over to Katipunan.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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