Breaking a semifinal spell that has lasted since 2010 means a lot to UP and team captain Alfred Valbuena deflects credit to his coaches and teammates.
“Syempre masaya ako and honored na nabalik yung UP na ako yung captain,” he told FOX Sports. “Syempre, di naman dahil captain ako kaya nabalik yung UP sa Final Four. Pero sa tulong namin sa bawat isa sa team, sila coach,”
It was never easy for the Fighting Maroons, who had to go through the eye of the needle just to book a ticket to the playoffs.
Just a few weeks ago, the Diliman spikers’ chances of advancing to the Final Four looked bleak, but thanks to big wins, including an upset of powerhouse Adamson, UP is back in the postseason.
“Talagang pinaghirapan namin ito. Ang dami naming ups and downs bago marating ‘tong Final Four,” he said. “As in ang dami naming nagpagusapan din para maayos yung team na maganda yung mindset namin going to the second round. Ayun, proud ako sa lahat na nangyari ngayon.”
This would be most fulfilling season for the outside hitter, especially after getting heavily injured last year and missing almost all their games.
“Well, last year kasi nainjure ako. Galing injury so hindi ko masyado nasulit yung season last year. 5 games lang ata nalaro ko. Pero this season talaga nakumpleto ko yung bawat laro nakakalaro ako kahit pamalit lang,” he said.
His ‘bad luck’ seems to have carried over to Season 78, when even as team captain, Valbuena would often come off the bench to play for the Maroons.
“Syempre, it was horrible. Na meron isang game na kaming dalawa ni Evan (Raymundo) nasa labas. Pero gusto namin tumulong na gusto naming maglaro para maayos o gumanda yung laro ng team sa laro na yun,” he shared. “Kaya mindset ko na habang nasa bench ako talangang pag pinasok ako, gagawin ko na lahat para makatulong. Talagang ipapakita ko sa kanila yung kakayanan ko, yung trust ko kay coach, sa mga teammates ko.”
Coach Rod Palmero repeatedly said he wants the veteran spiker to become more of a leader and to give his all in trying to help UP return to contention.
In the second round, Valbuena did that and more, even making it into MVP conversation after putting up stellar performance after stellar performance.
Now that the Fighting Maroons are underdogs in their semifinals game on Saturday against Ateneo, Valbuena reveals that their situation would benefit the team, especially that they already have nothing to lose, and knowing that they will just be playing their hearts out in the game.
“Very confident. Kasi walang pressure sa amin ngayon na kailangan laruin lang namin yung best namin na parang all out na. Tsaka, magenjoy lang kami bukas na parang tune-up game or mga PNG lang, ganun. Hindi yung Ateneo na, ‘uy champion team yan ganyan, malakas yan, nagt-training yan sa ibang bansa.’ Wala, yun lang isipin namin na volleyball team,” he said.
With the lesser pressure on his shoulders, should we expect Alfred Valbuena to perform one of the best games of his career?
“Hopefully, ayaw ko magsalita ng hindi pa nangyayari, hindi pa tapos. Pero ipapakita ko bukas. So, hopefully.” — By Arylle Magtalas