MANILA, Philippines – For volleyball superstar Alyssa Valdez, her recent stint with 3BB Nakornnont in Thailand was an eye-opening experience.
Even before she left for Thailand, Valdez had often spoke of her desire to get even better at the sport that she had dominated for half a decade as a member of the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles. In her collegiate career, Valdez collected both individual and team awards, finishing as a three-time MVP and a two-time UAAP champion.
She played for Bali Pure and Bureau of Customs in two V-League conferences before confirming in December that she had signed with 3BB. After a brief drama involving her International Transfer Certificate, Valdez was cleared to play for the Thai club, and fans got to see how the "Phenom" played when she was not her team's focal point on offense.
"I'm really happy na nabigyan ako ng opportunity," Valdez told ABS-CBN News last Tuesday. "Kahit kaunting oras lang, I'm really lucky to get that (playing) time."
"Kasi, kahit super kaunti lang 'yung time, 'yung makakalaban mo din naman talaga are veterans. And even if I don't get time to play, I get to see how they play, how intense 'yung level of competition na meron sila, and that's where it starts – 'yung inspiration to be a better volleyball player," she explained.
[Even if I only had a few minutes of playing time, I was still playing against veterans.]
In the Philippines, it is almost unthinkable for Valdez to get only a few minutes of playing time. Even as a rookie for the Lady Eagles, she was thrown to fire immediately, and for five seasons, she served as Ateneo's No. 1 option on offense. It was the same situation whenever she played for club teams in the V-League – wherever she played, Valdez inevitably became the top scorer.
With 3BB Nakornnont, however, Valdez did not have to carry the same kind of load. At times, she would enter the game as a reserve.
While there were no 20-point or 30-point explosions for the former Queen Eagle in Thailand, she was still able to display the sublime scoring skills, and her power was still evident. Yet Valdez was rarely "phenomenal" – not against players who were bigger, stronger, and frankly, better than she was.
The truth, however, is that this situation is exactly what Valdez wanted and needed at this point in her volleyball career.
"I have nothing," Valdez said of her experience in Thailand. "I'm really back to zero talaga."
"And that's what you really want to feel, as an athlete," she explained. "You have to feel na… you always have something to improve on. You're just there to improve and improve, and get to see a lot of volleyball games para alam mo rin kung nasaan ka na."
"'Yun 'yung na-feel ko, and I'm really happy na I get to feel those moments. Kailangan talaga."
Valdez may have nothing left to prove in the Philippines, but in Thailand, she said she felt as though she is a "junior" player.
"Kasabay namin ang mga junior teams sa training," she shared. "And sabi ko, 'Oh my god, kasing laki lang ako ng mga junior, kasing payat ako.'"
[We trained at the same time as the junior teams, and I saw that I was just as thin as the junior players.]
Instead of being disheartened, however, Valdez only felt more challenged.
"Nakakatuwa nga din na ganoon ang nakikita mo and ganoon 'yung pinagdadaanan mo, kasi alam mo na hindi ka talaga dapat mag-stop," she pointed out. "That's a reminder na you have to continuously prepare for the future of your career also."
[It was good for me to see that and experience that, because that showed me that I can't stop working.]
Now back in Manila, Valdez returns to a role that she is familiar with – that of the No. 1 option for the expansion Creamline squad in the Premier Volleyball League. There, she will be helped by Kuttika Kaewpin, one of her teammates in 3BB.
Valdez has previously said that one of her goals is to impart what she has learned in Thailand to local volleyball players, and she gets her first chance to do just that with the Cool Smashers.
"Madami rin akong natutunan, not only on the court but off the court talaga," she said. "Kasi siyempre, mag-isa (ako doon). You have to be brave, you have to be strong. Hopefully, lahat ng life lessons na natutunan ko, ma-apply."
[I learned a lot, both on the court and off it. I was alone there, and I had to be brave and I had to be strong. I hope I can apply all the life lessons that I learned there.]
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