MANILA, Philippines -- Former De La Salle University captain Abigail Maraño can still remember how she tried to ask for clarification from the first referee at the end of Game 3 of their UAAP Season 76 Finals series against Ateneo de Manila University.
Needing just one more win to secure a four-peat, the Lady Spikers rallied from a two-set deficit and had the Lady Eagles on the ropes in the fifth set. But the Alyssa Valdez-led Ateneo squad refused to back down, and after saving a match point, they surged ahead 16-15 when Michelle Morente overpowered the La Salle blockers.
What happened next has been the subject of debate ever since. Off a Jia Morado serve, La Salle setter Kim Fajardo and Valdez jousted at the net, and the referee called a double contact violation on Fajardo.
"'Yung Game 3, hindi ko rin pala makakalimutan 'yung moment na nag-decide 'yung referee na tapusin 'yung game," Maraño said in a video for ABS-CBN Sports, after they had replayed the entire game on YouTube.
"Sobrang crucial ng mga pangyayari. Tapos ako din, na-lost din ako, kasi nagulat ako. Anong tawag 'yung decision na kinall niya," she added.
Maraño says she approached the official and asked for a clarification, as the whole team was confused about what happened. Even six years later, the veteran middle blocker still wonders as to how the call was made.
"Kasi, confused din kami, paano nangyari na double si Kim kung nag-joust sila ni Alyssa sa taas. Parang, madami pa sanang pwedeng mangyari na pwede niyang ibigay 'yung pagkakataon na kami 'yung gumawa ng paraan para tapusin 'yung laro, hindi siya 'yung nag-decide," she said.
"Pero siyempre, dahil referee siya, call niya 'yun," Maraño conceded.
After winning Game 3 in five sets, Ateneo would go on to win the Season 76 title in Game 4 by sweeping La Salle, in what was Maraño's final UAAP game.
While she was disappointed at how her collegiate career ended, Maraño said she remains grateful because of the impact they had on the sport. It was during Maraño's time that volleyball grew in popularity, eventually becoming one of the most anticipated UAAP events in the whole country.
"Sobra akong grateful, sobra akong thankful, at feeling blessed ako, dahil isa ako sa mga manlalaro na inabot 'yung panahon kung saan umusbong na ang volleyball sa Pilipinas," said Maraño.
"Siguro, proud din. Kasi, alam mo na lahat ng pinaghirapan mo, lahat ng binuhos mo na pagmamahal, oras para magpakadalubhasa sa paglalaro ng volleyball, nagbunga."
Maraño gives plenty of credit to the players who came before them, particularly their seniors in La Salle who motivated them to keep playing at a high level and continue to improve their skills. And she is hopeful that she and her peers are serving as an inspiration to the next wave of volleyball stars.
"Sana maging daan din ito para mas pagbutihan pa nila ang paglalaro ng volleyball, mahalin pa nila ang volleyball, kasi madami nang napatunayan ang volleyball sa Pilipinas," she said.
"Ngayon, hindi lang siya sports, nagiging daan din siya para magkaroon ka ng libreng matrikula, nalalayo ka sa pagbabarkada ng hindi tama," Maraño added.
"Pagkatapos, kahit grumaduate ka ng college, meron kang avenue para makapagtrabaho gamit ang talento at pagmamahal mo sa paglalaro ng volleyball."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).