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The Girls from Batangas in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals

The deciding match of the UAAP Season 78 women’s volleyball final was dominated by one Kim Kianna Dy from De La Salle Zobel in Alabang, who deservedly was named finals MVP. However, something not lost on followers of the league was that both sides of the court were littered with lasses from Batangas.

The most prominent of these were the two captains, Alyssa Valdez of Ateneo and Kim Fajardo of DLSU. The two are from opposite sides of Batangas, Valdez from the easternmost town of San Juan and Fajardo from the westernmost town of Calatagan. They apparently became close friends while playing for UST’s high school team, for which they were recruited from elementary.

Calatagan’s volleyball reputation is a tad understated; but it comes as no surprise to those in the know that San Juan has produced arguably the country’s most iconic female volleyball player. The town’s reputation in the game stretches all the way back to the early seventies, and probably even earlier.

Back then, a school named San Juan Institute Recoletos used to dominate the annual diocesan athletic meet called LIDICSA. At a time when other schools merely crossed the ball over to the other side and waited for it to drop, SJIR was ahead of its time and already knew how to use the spike, or “bomba” as it used to be called in the era.

Even when De La Salle Lipa, the school where I used to work, started to dominate boys’ and girls’ volleyball in the province starting from the late eighties, members of the coaching staff always used to keep an eye out for the Batangas Province teams in the STRAA.

DLSL used to represent the Department of Education’s Lipa City Division. The Batangas Province Division, quite often, was represented by a team from San Juan.

Although the tournament’s Best Digger Dawn Macandili is always presented by the announcers as from De La Salle Zobel, anybody from hereabouts immediately recognises the surname as Batangueño. She is, as I understand it, from the City of Tanauan. She used to play for DLSL’s elementary team and then transferred to DLSZ.

The last Batangueña among the starters for both teams is the outside hitter for the Lady Eagles Jhoanna Louise Maraguinot. She was among the standout performers in Ateneo’s title-retention campaign of 2015; but probably underperformed by her own lofty standards in Game 3 last Saturday.

Maraguinot is a high school graduate of DLSL from the class of 2012. She was a junior when I retired from the school in 2011, so she must have been among the players whom the coach, Cecille Quigley, used to send running towards me some afternoons for the traditional Filipino blessing called “mano.”

It came as no surprise to me that she took the UAAP last year by storm as her own mother, the former Lovella Agno of the town of Alitagtag here in Batangas, used to be among DLSL’s star volleyball players in the late eighties and early nineties.

The daughter is arguably more versatile than the mother, understandable because of input from a top foreign coach. However, in terms of raw strength, the mother by my own reckoning had more power than Valdez.

Had volleyball been as high profile a sport in the nineties as it is today, Lovel, as I call her, would have become as popular and as iconic as Valdez. She was built like a swimmer and had great upper body strength. Often, all opponents could do was to get out of the way when she delivered her “bombs.”

Unfortunately, she had already graduated when DLSL went on a streak of four straight Palarong Pambansa high school girls’ volleyball titles from 1993-1996.

Jhoanna Maraguinot's mother just missed DLSL's Palarong Pambansa winning teams.

There were two more Batangueñas in the two teams’ rosters during the finals. Maria Mikaela Esperanza, like Maraguinot a DLSL alumna, used to be the Lady Spikers’ first-choice setter until dislodged, ironically by fellow Batangueña Fajardo. At least, she bowed out from the UAAP with a championship medal.

The last player from Batangas in the finals was Ateneo rookie Jennelle Marie Lo. A libero, Lo is also a graduate of DLSL.

These are just the lasses from DLSU and Ateneo. There were more players from Batangas in other schools not just on the distaff side but also in the men’s teams.

While Valdez’s graduation is understandably seen as something of a loss to university volleyball, the way the sport’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years ensures that it will not take long for somebody to step up and become the game’s new icon.

That that player will again be from Batangas is not unlikely at all. After all, the game has been played with quality and passion in the province for decades. In fact, just last April, a very young team from DLSL reached the final once again of the Palarong Pambansa, where it was unfortunately beaten by a team from the NCR.

Just how many of these girls, in the near future, will be wearing the jerseys of La Salle, Ateneo or the other teams of the UAAP?

[Note:  Ateneo's Jamie Isabelle M. Lavitoria from California traces her roots to San Jose, Batangas.]

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