The most famous female athletes in the country today perform these tasks: they serve, toss, spike, block, set, dig and kill. That’s volleyball.
Jia Morado. Alyssa Valdez. Jaja Santiago. Kim Fajardo. Mika Reyes. Bea De Leon. Sisi Rondina, who was born in Compostela, Cebu. Are these names not national figures? Have we not watched them do a pancake, or a dink shot, or serve a floater?
Thanks to ABS-CBN Sports and their live coverage of almost every UAAP and NCAA game, we follow the sport of volleyball. And while in most sports the men are more popular than the women, in volleyball, it’s the opposite. Sure, Marck Espejo is sikat but the women rule volleyball.
Coming from Cebu, one player was honored in the UAAP Season 80 with a prestigious award: Best Setter. Her name is Deanna Wong.
“She started late as a volleyball player,” said her dad Dean, whom I interviewed for this piece. “She started when she was in Grade 6. She just went to see the try out at STC. Then the trainer, Jamel Macasamat, saw her long fingers tossing a basketball and asked her to join the try out.”
From STC in elementary to USJ-R in high school, Deanna became a star. For college, she was recruited to play for the Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles.
Now on her third year in ADMU, Deanna had immense pressure because she was replacing one of the school’s best-ever setters (Jia Morado), who graduated last season.
“As a setter, you need to read the position of your opponent, especially the blockers,” said her dad Dean. “You need to give the ball to your spikers away from the defense/blockers and you need to analyze situations through quick-thinking.”
I’ve gotten to know Deanna. In the past three years since my daughter Jana has studied in Ateneo, I’d meet Deanna quite often. At the campus, she often leaves the Eliazo Dorm for their twice-daily practice sessions. Deanna is kind, respectful and humble.
For the UAAP Season 80, the Ateneo women’t team did not win gold; they lost in the semifinals to FEU (and La Salle went to win its third straight title). But if there’s one award to be proud of, it’s the Best Setter trophy to Deanna.
“She was surprised that she got the award,” said her dad, who added that she was a rookie in her position.
As to Deanna’s learnings the past few years, he mentioned several: “Deanna has learned to bond with her teammates. To study her attackers, her spikers, their comfortable positions to spike, to adjust to their spiking position.”
I asked Dean (who traveled to Manila almost weekly during the UAAP season to watch the games live), what lessons Deanna has learned in the pressure-filled arena, with over 20,000 in attendance at the MOA Arena or Araneta Coliseum.
“Discipline is vital. The mindset is crucial. To be fierce on the court and not to be intimidated by opponents,” Dean said. “Sports taught Deanna to overcome challenges. There were doubters ever since high school but she proved them all wrong.”
Ateneo is not easy because the academic demands are high. Of balancing the school’s tough academic standards with the countless hours spent practicing, Dean said: “It’s not easy but it can be done.”
As proof of that, Deanna Wong is the UAAP’s best setter.