MANILA, Philippines – During the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference last year, Faith Nisperos showed that she was more than ready to serve as the No. 1 scoring option for the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles.
The former National University (NU) high school star displayed her scoring chops by pouring in 35 points in a bronze medal game against De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, and eventually won Second Best Open Spiker honors.
As it turns out, Nisperos will have plenty of help in the upcoming UAAP Season 82 women's volleyball tournament. Reigning Best Opposite Spiker Kat Tolentino decided to play in her final year of eligibility, and veteran open spiker Jhoana Maraguinot returned after a one-year break from the collegiate game.
"The more, the merrier," Nisperos said.
Veterans Ponggay Gaston and Jules Samonte are still there to anchor the team, as well as promising sophomores Vannie Gandler and Erika Raagas. But it is the return of Maraguinot and Tolentino that lightened Nisperos' load considerably.
"I think nag-lighten up 'yung responsibility na kailangan kong dalhin, kasi I know na there are more experienced players coming in," she said.
The development did not come as a surprise for Nisperos, who formally committed to Ateneo in March 2019.
"Siyempre, as a volleyball player, who played for so long, I don't think it would be so easy just to say no to a last playing year," she said. "Like, isa na lang, why not use it."
"So, I kinda expect it na, 'Ah, they're gonna come back for sure,'" she added.
Their return is a blessing for Nisperos in more ways than one. Not only are Tolentino and Maraguinot expected to contribute heavily to Ateneo's offense, but for at least this season, they can also serve as mentors to their promising rookie.
Nisperos is already looking forward to learning from both veterans.
"Siyempre, as a rookie, I'm grateful na at least may matututunan pa ako from the ates," she said.
"(Coach Oliver Almadro) just says that kasi siyempre last playing year na ni Ate Jho and Ate Kat," she also said. "So parang naging walk-through 'to, parang trial part pa lang 'to for me for the next years."
Of course, even with Tolentino and Maraguino's presence, expectations are still sky-high for Nisperos.
Her decision to play for Ateneo was greeted with delight by the Lady Eagles' fanbase, considering her impressive resume. Nisperos was a two-time MVP and a two-time Finals MVP with NU in high school, and helped the Bullpups win four straight girls' volleyball championships.
Nisperos said she pays no attention to other people's expectations of her, instead choosing to focus on what the team wants from her.
"They don't really have a big impact on me," she said. "Kasi 'yung important sa akin is anong, what's expected of me from the team. 'Yun ang really binibigyan ko ng big consideration."
"I think 'yung ine-expect nila is, I have to like step up," she added. "Sabi nga ni coach… even though you're a rookie, you have to like, lead, or may responsibility na ako sa team na, I have to gawin ng tama 'yung role ko."
At the end of the day, Nisperos' primary goal as a rookie is to help the Lady Eagles retain the UAAP crown. She knows all about the pressure of entering the season as defending champions, having felt it during her high school days in NU.
"I think 'yung experience ko in high school, magagamit ko here in college," she said. "'Yung every day feeling na everyone wants to beat you – parang nasanay na rin ako na ganoon 'yung mindset."
"'Yun 'yung nag-motivate sa akin to work hard, kasi nga everyone wants to be in your spot. I have to work harder to remain in that spot."
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