Mae Tajima talks about doubters, her Ateneo stint and what’s next

Bali Pure may have already bowed out of contention in the 13th Shakey’s V-League Open Conference after yielding to Pocari Sweat in the semis but the expansion team certainly pulled off a couple of surprises during its campaign.

With little preparation heading into the tournament, the squad’s playing coach Charo Soriano relied on the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Grethcel Soltones and Dzi Gervacio to power the Purest Water Defenders to almost getting a slot in the finale.

Soriano’s boldest move, however, was when she fielded in Mae Tajima, who in return delivered a performance that surprised the fans of the sport.

It is interesting to note that prior to joining the club ranks, the Davao native spent her collegiate years with powerhouse Ateneo where, unfortunately, she did not get to see much playing time.

On getting a chance to showcase what she can do, Tajima shares: “I’m really thankful that I was given a chance especially I’m playing pa with almost the same Ateneo team.”

“It’s a reunion for us. It feels good that I’m still playing with my ates. I learned from them and the experiences I had during this season,” she added.

Though already a UAAP champ after being part of the Lady Eagles’ Season 76 iteration, the middle blocker has been at the receiving end of ridicule online as ‘keyboard warriors’ often target her and her level of play.

Admitting she gets to read some of the mean tweets sent her way, she says: “Yes, it hurts but what am I going to do? I’m not there naman to please them.”

“Maybe I didn’t get the experience to play a lot. And then maybe part rin sa akin na may pagkukulang. I didn’t get to play and feel it, playing and all,” said the 6-foot spiker. “It was a blow to my confidence. You really get your confidence when you play eh. Example my teammates, look at Gizzle (Tan) now. Look at her confidence now.”

After being discovered by former Ateneo head coach Roger Gorayeb at the Palarong Pambansa more than half-a-decade ago, Tajima flew to Manila to join the Katipunan crew, tagging along with another recruit Sarah Cruz.

Falling in love with the sport, she then spent the succeeding years balancing her life as a student-athlete and choosing to move forward and continue playing even after her fellow Davaoeña and teammate Cruz chose to pack her things and go back home.

Talking about what pushed her to keep playing in spite of the limited playing time, she says: “I just loved it. I had fun. I like how volleyball gives me the discipline.”

“It makes you really like volleyball as a whole. In a bigger perspective, you get to like the team, the coaches and even the super hard training. Ginagawa mo lang siya until it becomes natural to you,” she said.

And there was no denying that Tajima truly loved being a Lady Eagle.

Though the fans hardly saw her playing inside the court back in Season 78, the spiker played her role well at the sidelines, cheering on her teammates and even playing around with fellow bench players just to boost the morale of their starters.

“I think it’s not really about the points you scored. It’s more about the character and how you accept things. Just face the facts right in front of you. Just embrace it whatever gets to your way. Look forward to the future and what comes with it,” she said.

True enough, Tajima is less agile than Bea de Leon, Amy Ahomiro and even Maddie Madayag. But if her stint with Bali Pure is any indication, she can be a role player for the runners-up Lady Eagles come Season 79.

Unfortunately, according to her, she has already decided not to forego her eligibility for the blue and white.

“No na (sa collegiate). I’m happy naman now where I’m at,” she told FOX Sports.

“I’m graduated na rin eh. For sure, I’m gonna miss it. Super bittersweet siya. Whenever I think about it now, I’m gonna graduate, what to do next? It scares me. What will I do next?”

“It’s a process. Letting go is a process,” she added.

At this point, Tajima looks forward to a well-deserved vacation as she is set to spend more time with her family in the south.

Thanking her mentor for the big morale boost, Tajima hints on continuing to learn while under the wings of Soriano who she considers as a big inspiration.

“I’m really grateful. She’s a role model for us. You see how she bloomed naman before until now, she keeps improving herself even with BVR,” shared Tajima. “I really look up to her. She inspires me a lot. She’s a big sister and she brings good vibes lang talaga.”

“Possible naman na I will continue playing. I’m open to possibilities naman,” she closed with a sweet, sweet smile. — By Mac Dionisio