[EDITOR'S NOTE: Beginning with this piece, Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored in our Awards Night to be held on January 21 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila]
CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Change The Game
AWARDEE: Alyssa Valdez
Alyssa Valdez has had quite a year. But her year was truly defined by one moment not on the court but off it, when she served as the flag-bearer of the Philippine contingent during the opening ceremony of the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last June.
Valdez became just the second non-medalist after the great boxing hero Manny Pacquiao to be accorded that honor. And right there, the timid spiker out of Ateneo made the big leap that made her more than just the face of Philippine volleyball's stunning renaissance.
She has changed her game.
Almost naturally, the shy girl from San Juan, Batangas hesitated to take on the important role. But Valdez eventually relented, calling it both an honor and responsibility.
“Magbibitbit ka ng bansa literally and figuratively,” said Valdez.
There was no doubt that Valdez, who in 2014 led a rookie-laden Ateneo team to its first UAAP title since joining the league in 1978 and to this day can fill an entire arena with her fans alone, played a huge part in this volleyball resurgence.
But she was quick to deflect the credit to the volleyball stars who came before her, saying they were the ones who paved the way.
“I’m really blessed and I’m really grateful na ako ‘yung (game changer), pero siguro timing lang na nasakto sa amin ‘yung [panahon] ng social media,” she said, recognizing how online platforms have greatly enhanced the popularity of the game and its players.
“But it’s not for me, it’s for all the volleyball players na mga veterans na ini-idolo namin (ng current generation) kasi syempre sila naman talaga ang nag-pave ng way eh, kami lang ‘yung na-timingan,” she added.
Valdez’s modesty is admirable, but her achievements in the past year alone make her undeniably deserving of the accolade.
Last March, Valdez led the flight of the Lady Eagles on their way to a second UAAP championship via a rare season sweep, while earning her second consecutive MVP award.
Then two months later, she’d wear the tricolors for the Asian Under-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship where they finished seventh before competing in the SEA Games in Singapore in June.
She also won two titles in the 12th Season of the Shakey’s V-League, both with PLDT Home Ultera, the first in the Open Conference and the second in the Reinforced Conference. Despite playing for only two matches in the Finals, still she was named Finals MVP.
In the Collegiate Conference, however, she and the Lady Eagles settled for the first runner-up as National U prevailed. Still, volleyball never stopped for Valdez as she also played in the UAAP beach volleyball tournament with Bea Tan and settled for a third place finish in October.
Valdez’s on-court success has spread outside the sport as her phenomenal popularity also earned her some endorsements, both print and television commercials, and she became the muse for PBA team Talk ‘N Text during the opening ceremony.
But no matter how busy she is, Valdez has never once lost focus on the task as hand.
The student-athlete-celebrity just came from Thailand for training with the Ateneo Lady Eagles in preparation for the coming UAAP season, continuously putting her head down to work without ever complaining.
“We had twice-a-day training, we just did the things we usually do in Thailand, we played with the national team and the club teams but it was really fun,” she said.
That's truly a game changer.