Down 1-6 in UST’s five-set match against NU, head coach Kungfu Reyes made a substitution nobody saw coming.
In his hopes to prevent having the rug pulled out from under them, the coach took out veteran setter Alex Cabaños from the equation and replaced her with rookie and converted playmaker Alyssa Teope.
Though it added height to UST’s net defense, it still made a lot of fans watching scratch their heads in confusion. Why would an experienced coach let a young gun play under so much pressure with a win on the line?
But as it turns out, the gamble paid off as Teope delivered, making crucial decisions that won the team its second straight victory in Season 78.
“Siyempre po masaya ako kasi ‘yung trust ni coach sa amin na mga nasa labas na kahit pitpitan ‘yung laro naipapasok niya pa rin kami,” she told FOX Sports after the win.
The confusion of the UST hopeful soon turned into a nod of approval as the freshman showcased nerves of steel despite seeing little to no playing time in the past games.
And for the UST high alumna, having the right amount of focus and mindset even while in the bench helped her overcome the jitters that would normally eat rookies like her alive.
“Kasi po ang sinasabi sa amin lagi pag nasa labas ready ka lang lagi kasi any time pwede kang ipasok kahit pitpitan,” she shared.
“Tapos nung tinawag na ako ni coach, ready naman po ako,” added the 5-foot-10 spiker-turned-setter. “Naisip ko po paano ako makakatulong sa team, kung paano ko maide-deliver ng tama sa spiker ‘yung bola para hindi siya mahirapan.”
After rallying to come within 1 at the 11-12 juncture of the last frame, Teope ended a rally with a set to middle blocker Chloe Cortez, a play which her head coach considers as the turning point of the game.
The play was unexpected considering how little the number of touches given to UST’s middle blockers in the 1st 4 sets.
On her observation while at the bench, she shares, “Nakita ko po na sa open lagi na kaming nababantayan. ‘Yung gitna , hindi na napapansin.”
“Nakita ko na rin po kasi na walang blockers na sumasabay. Nakita ko rin po sila na pumasok at wala na akong choice sa open so sumilip po ako kaya binigay ko,” she added. “Wala nang kumakagat sa decoy kaya dun ko binigay. ‘Yun din naman po sinabi ni coach na kahit basic na lang muna. A-quick, open, A-quick, open muna.”
The España squad and its supporters collectively heaved a sigh of relief as the win injected life into the girls’ hopes to make it back to the Final Four.
And for Teope, though her minutes may be limited compared to what she was getting in the high school ranks, the promising rookie vows to always be ready for whatever the team needs—may it be another tour of duty as a setter or going back to her first love as a spiker.
“Basta ako ready lang ako. Minsan kasi pumapalo din ako. Kaya kahit ano po kailangan ng team, ready lang po ako,” she closed. — By Mac Dionisio