Ana Gopico gets new, bigger role as Ateneo tries to stay afloat

The more you see Ana Gopico dive for a save, soar for a kill and jump for a block at the ongoing 13th Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference, the harder it gets to believe that in the last 3 years, she has already torn her ACL twice.

A prized Ateneo recruit back in Season 76 of the UAAP, the middle blocker had to stage an early exit after her first massive injury midway through the tournament.

Her supposed Season 77 comeback was halted anew when the second incident happened, barring her from seeing volleyball action for 2 more seasons.

All the heartbreaks of the past, though, are now looking to be nothing but water under the bridge as the Colegio San Agustin alumna is back for the Lady Eagles, even shaking things up a little in their last outing against Perpetual where she suited up as an outside hitter, a first in her volleyball career.

“It’s actually new. They just told me last week. Five days ago lang kami nag start mag training na open ako,” she admitted.

For those who do not follow the support religiously, it’s easy to assume that the responsibilities of a middle blocker and an outside hitter are just the same: hammer the ball hard or send it back to the opponent via an offensive block.

The big difference, however, happens when these spikers move to the back where middle blockers get to be relieved from defending the floor by a libero while a wing spikers stay inside to to continue helping out.

Surprisingly, Gopico doesn’t mind. Talking about her new position, she says: “I like defense. Ever since high school, I like floor defense.”

“Since ito ‘yung binigay, I have to perform. I don’t really have a choice,” she added.

And perform she did.

With Ateneo’s back pressed against the wall, Gopico tallied 11 points to help tow the embattled team past the Lady Altas, keeping their hopes for a quarterfinals seat alive with a 1-3 record.

It did not seem like it but the former Palarong Pambansa MVP admits to exerting extra effort to control her jitters prior to the first whistle.

“Until now kinakabahan pa din ako. Lalo na until now ‘yung open spikers mas madaming responsibility dun. Usually, sila ‘yung porsyento, diba? Ang daming palo,” she told FOX Sports.

“Kinakabahan ako pero iniisip ko palagi na pag pinasok ako, I should really give my best. I don’t have to think of other things aside from the game,” she added. “Tina-try ko na i-limit ‘yung iniisip ko to the game only so siguro kaya I guess reliable ako.”

In fact, Gopico mentioned the change in the Ateneo’s rotation to her parents who then came to the rescue by watching the game live and cheering their hearts out at the sidelines.

“I told my dad na there’s a possibility na magche-change ‘yung position ko today. Bago siya for me kasi it’s my first time to play open (hitter) ever. Sabi ko, ‘Dad, kinakabahan ako.’ So siyempre watch siya. Additional confidence boost siya for me,” she shared.

Aside from finally breaking into the win column, Ateneo’s victory Monday serves as its first without its star spiker Alyssa Valdez.

Ecstatic with her first win post-injury, Gopico hopes that the win will ignite and kick start a new winning tradition for the young team.

On the struggles of rarely having a complete attendance in training, she says: “We’re still trying to find ‘yung galaw namin sa loob ng court. Ang hirap kasi hindi din kami makumpleto sa training kasi ang dami pa ding injured eh.”

“Hopefully, ito ‘yung start ng something good for the team,” she closed. — By Mac Dionisio

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