ALYSSA Valdez has become the face of volleyball's renaissance in the Philippines.
The same goes for her hometown.
Valdez's phenomenal popularity has not only put the seaside town of San Juan in Batangas on the sports map, it has also inspired a new generation of volleyball players in her hometown eager to follow in her footsteps.
"After nakilala si Alyssa sa buong Pilipinas at internationally, mas na-boost 'yung mga players na kahit maliliit, naglalaro na ng volleyball,” said San Juan councilor Alvin Samonte, who happens to be a classmate of Valdez in preparatory school.
“Once may pa-volleyball sa barangay, dinudumog ng tao," he added.
Unknown to many, San Juan has always been a hotbed of volleyball in the province long before Valdez rose to prominence, first with the Ateneo Lady Eagles and later with the national team.
Samonte said most schools in Batangas rely on volleyball recruits from their town. Batangas Eastern College, an academic institution based in San Juan, also has a strong volleyball program that makes its mark in Southern Tagalog meets and the Palarong Pambansa.
"Before Alyssa, marami naman na volleyball enthusiasts sa San Juan. Dito sa Batangas, halos lahat ng mga players nila are from San Juan,” Samonte said.
Valdez's success, however, has led to a spike in the number of girls taking up the sport in the coastal town. Some players, local officials said, even shout ‘Valdez’ every time they try to hit the ball.
More leagues are also being held in the barangay level, according to Glenn Castillo, the municipality's sports coordinator.
"Nagkakaroon lagi ng volleyball leagues every summer and Christmas na kung saan 'yung mga bata ang naglalaro," said Castillo.
Local government officials now look to take advantage of the growth of the sport to spur the rise of a generation of volleyball players - and hopefully produce the 'next Alyssa.'
To jumpstart that search, Samonte said San Juan plans to hold more tournaments around summer and the Christmas holidays, aside from the annual municipal meets.
"Para may continuity, kasi stop ang training nila after ng municipal meet, nawawala na 'yung training at walang exposure. Naisip namin gumawa ng parang San Juan athletic association na ita-tap namin ang volleyball at basketball," Samonte said.
Plans are also afoot for an inter-school tournament, Castillo said.
"Ang training kasi nila, kapag may municipal meet, wala na. Maraming potential na hindi tuluy-tuloy ang paglago. Kaya balak ni konsehal na magtayo ng inter-school na every Friday or Saturday night ang laro para tuluy-tuloy ang training," Castillo said.
Hopefully, the 'next Alyssa' will rise from the ranks.
"Napakilala niya (Valdez) ang volleyball ng maayos throughout the Philippines," said Samonte. “One day, sana magkaroon kami ng mga bata na makapag-represent hindi lang sa Batangas province, kundi sa commercial league at sa international like what Alyssa is doing.”