V-LEAGUE DIARIES: QUICK SET TO THE MOST RENOWNED MIDDLE BLOCKERS OF THE COUNTRY
There is no doubt that the sport of volleyball has grown by huge leaps and margins. With so many players surfacing from each corner of the country, we cannot deny the fact that ‘height is might’ in the game of volleyball. Although there are players who became prominent excluding the factor of their height, we cannot overlook that height is really a weapon in volleyball.
Known for their killer blocks and flashy spikes, middle blockers/hitters are often the tallest players on the team. They are based at the center of the net and are the frontrunners of the team’s defensive end. But a quality middle blocker contributes more than that, aside from acing the team’s defense at the net, they are also the ones that let the opposing team eat dust with their quick spikes, running spikes, and deceiving runs.
Writer’s Note: With the first-ever professional season of PVL fast approaching, let’s dive into stories that not only made up the dream volleyball league (hopefully) but also an anecdote of why we love the sport. Here, we enlisted prominent middle blockers that brought zenith in the Philippine volleyball.
Standing 6-foot-5, Alyja “Jaja” Daphne Santiago has become one of the most prominent volleyball athletes in the country. The former Lady Bulldog did not only mark her name in the Philippine volleyball but also echoed in international scenes. Jaja Santiago excelled early in her UAAP career, with her sister, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, they are feared by many as the twin-tower sisters of the lady bulldogs. From then on, she was awarded several individual accolades in both attacking and blocking departments. After her collegiate career, she manifested her promising skill in the Philippine SuperLiga (PSL), winning medals over medals. She was also able to represent the country from 2015-2018 that includes the Southeast Asian Games.
The peak of her volleyball career spiked through when she got to play in the Japan V.League with Ageo Medics. She steered the squad to a podium finish in her first season, bagging the bronze title, then ended fifth in her second season but made history winning the V.Cup title. She became the league’s efficient spiker topping off the charts with above 50% spiking efficiency. But one thing that we can’t forget about Jaja is that she screams Filipino. Although she received a lot of foreign offers, the volleyball ace still wants to raise the Philippine flag higher in international tournaments.
De LaSalle University (DLSU) is solid to their anthem, “Height is Might”. Through the years, we have seen the likes of Jacqueline Alarca, Mika Reyes, and Aby Maraño dawning the hardcourt with their intimidating heights and towering blocks but the middle blocker from Tarlac City has sought her own time acing the team’s defense at the net. From guarding the net from left to right to nailing fashion catwalks and back, Mary Joy “Majoy” Baron is no ordinary middle blocker as she conquered both worlds. The 6-foot stalwart proved to be a force to be reckoned with during her UAAP days, winning best middle blocker titles and a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award which is unusual for a middle blocker since they are replaced by liberos whenever they are rotated at the back of the court.
She then graced her talents in the PSL, winning several best middle blocker titles and an MVP award as well. The 25-year-old blocker had made several spikers go through some horror with her long arms stretching across the net. With her elite skills at the net, Majoy gave one epic achievement for the Philippine team after hailing as the Best Middle Blocker of the first and second leg of the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix that pitted powerhouse countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. One thing to note—whenever Majoy is in front of the net, watch out for a block party!
Maddie Madayag may have started slow in her first seasons in the UAAP, but that did not stop her to rain chaos during the peak of her career in volleyball. With her striking running attacks and well-timed blocks, she became the scoring machine in both the spiking and blocking department of the Lady Blue Eagles one could ever hope for.
UAAP Season 81, saw the 5-foot-11 blocker smashing off records surpassing from what was once nine blocks in a single game made by former La Salle Lady Spiker Celine Hernandez to 11 impenetrable blocks. Moreover, Madayag also notched a career-high in points, finishing up the elimination round with 44 kill blocks in the entire season and 0.86 average by set also in the blocking department, bagging the 2nd best middle blocker plum during that season. Her talents earned her a spot in the national team that competed in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in 2019. As she continues to deliver her talents both locally and internationally, Philippine’s “Madzilla” will soon see action once again as she is playing under a club team, the Choco Mucho Flying Titans.
The underrated Maika Angela Ortiz proved to be one of the silent-but-deadly middle blockers of the country. With her signature running spikes, the 5-foot-11 stalwart can deliver hard spikes either down the line or cross court hits with perfection. The University of Santo Tomas (UST) may have laid off from the championship title at this point in time but during the reign of Ortiz, she made sure the España-based squad won the championship trophy back in 2010.
A veteran player to watch out for, Ortiz also has several international exposures. Her arsenal includes vicious running spikes that were very efficient against Vietnam in the 6th Asian Women’s Volleyball Cup in 2018. Though she met a very unfortunate injury in 2019, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), she is one rare player that can deliver running bombs with ease and power.
Mary Jean Balse-Pabayo
Before Alyssa Valdez, Eya Laure, Jaja Santiago, and other new-generation of volleybelles, there was the name of Mary Jean Balse-Pabayo that held up the sport in the country. The legend Mary Jean is a champion UST alumna and one of the players who steered the Philippines to a historical bronze medal in the 2005 SEA Games. The Tagum City, Davao del Norte native was untouchable in the middle of her prime years. Dubbed as “The Hammer”, she can slam dunk a ball without breaking a sweat.
During her reign in the UAAP, she proved to be worthy and remarkable in the sports as she reigned several championship titles that include Seasons 69 and 72. The iconic figure also holds the first-ever championship title of the Shakey’s V-League back in 2004 where she powered Santo Tomas, racking 25 points in Game Two that earned her to win the MVP plum against DLSU. We cannot really imagine how powerful and vigilant Mary Jean’s plays were but beyond any doubt, she will forever be etched in the history of Philippine volleyball.
Definitely, no volleyball team can win tournaments without a pair of solid middle blockers. With the upcoming PVL, let us all be thrilled with the exciting plays that our middle blockers have to offer. While liberos are the guardian deities of the volleyball court, one thing’s for sure, middle blockers are the sentinels of the net.