I am a proud Ateneo fan.
It was like standing in the middle of the loud, crazy crowd, not knowing what to do first: jump for joy, scream, or cry.
I couldn’t even remember what I did first. Or if I did it altogether. All I remember was that all the time, right at the first throw of the ball on the first set until its last hit on the floor at that 25th mark on the fourth set, I was praying.
I wasn’t actually praying for the Lady Eagles to win. All I ever prayed for was for them to give a good fight. That may there be no injuries on both camps, and that may He bless the players with their A-games on that do-or-die match.
I just trusted His will, for I know that He would only give the win to the team that has the biggest and the most deserving hearts.
I came to the Big Dome, setting the expectations of my family. They are Ateneo fans too, but not as ‘fangirl’ as me. They watch the games on TV but rarely watch live. They know the players but not as well as I do. They know the Ateneo Lady Eagles as a team but they don’t know their story.
How they’re too young and less experienced as a team, and how they have been struggling, losing some of the keep players last season.
So I thought they might get disappointed if ever the Lady Eagles lose.
I kept setting their minds, telling them it would really be okay for me if the girls lose. They got Game 1, what more could I ask for? But my tita, from time to time, told me, “Nakaya nga nila ‘yong una eh. Kaya nila ‘yan.”
I just smiled whenever she said that, and I was like, “Parang mas mababaliw ako kapag pumasok ang Ateneo sa finals!”
Well, not that I really didn’t believe they’d win, but it was easier to think that they would lose against NU because it was what everybody believed. It’s going to be NU and DLSU in the finals, plus the fact that they were twice beaten by NU in the eliminations. I knew they’ve got the skills, the talent, the unity and the hardwork. I knew they can make it but I recognized, too, that it’s not going to be easy.
I wasn’t ‘not believing’ but I was just trying not to expect.
I tried to be a matured fan so I set modest expectations in mind.
So, imagine my delight when they got the first set. I was literally jumping, screaming while praying and taking pictures and whatever. I didn’t even mind the cameras rolling (although I saw myself in one of the replays, looking crazy, jumping for joy).
Who even cared about being seen on TV? The #BigBlueCrowd was too happy, excited and overwhelmed. What with the eleven-drum set by the Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion (kudos to them, by the way), the #BigBlueCrowd literally dominated the Big Dome and made a thundering noise whenever the Lady Eagles get a point.
There was a debate going on in my mind. It was like being torn between “OMG kaya nga nila! Shocks, grabe, nakuha nila first set! Woohoo!“ and that "Noooo, huwag ka munang umasa. Isang set pa lang ‘yan, kumalma ka, utang na loob.’ thoughts.
And then my tita said, “Sabi ko sa’yo kaya nila eh.”
But apparently, the second set was a total meltdown, and while the crowd tried to be as noisy and as lively as it was during the first set, it really hurt to see the score.
And there was fear, too, because that time, NU was already getting their game. There was this, "Shet. Ito na ang NU. Gising na.”
The next two sets didn’t really give all of us the chance to sit back and relax. It’s a tight ball game, without any team leading big enough to be complacent.
But seriously, the next two sets were the loudest.
The screams, the chants, the drums. The boos. The cheers and the jeers. Everything was there. At one point I thought the floor was literally shaking. I didn’t mind, though. It was a tough match and the Lady Eagles were fighting. Fighting real hard.
You can just imagine how the Big Dome erupted when they snatched the third set.
That time, I was screaming "Thank You, Lord! Thank You, Mamy Mary,” hoping they would hear me from heaven.
“Tita, kakalma ako. Kakalma talaga ako. Naka-dalawang sets na sila, OMG! Kakalma talaga ako!”
But I didn’t. I was too happy and the crowd was too noisy to even calm. The sea of blue was celebrating. I even saw some, exchanging high fives, hugging each other.
The #BigBlueCrowd felt they were already winners. Why not? Their favorite team - young, struggling, doubted and counted out - had just won two sets in its second attempt to snatch the finals ticket from the Number 2 team.
The fourth set was a more relaxed one. At the back of my mind, I really wanted to believe we’d be getting this last set but the thought of the Lady Eagles going to the finals really gave me goosebumps, so I chose to set it aside and enjoy the game, one point at a time. I was really praying they’d finish it, though I knew that Lady Bulldogs wouldn’t give it up that easy. I knew, as competitive as they are, they would want to take revenge.
They were as hungry as any Top 2 team in any league would be to get to the finals. But I guess their hunger wasn’t that bad enough.
The Araneta Coliseum just erupted with that Valdez hit that ended the match.
I cried. And I knew thousands of those in the Big Dome and those that were in front of their television sets and cellphones were crying too.
Crying out of happiness.
Crying out of pride.
As Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower puts it, “In that moment, I swear, we were infinite.”
True enough, victory is sweeter when you least expect it.
And then I saw big smiles and heard hearty laughs as we went out of the court. Those in blue, men and women, young and old, hugging each other, as they celebrated like they were the players that won the game, exchanged stories at how they were nervous and excited and how they screamed their hearts out. And how they were still feeling surreal right at that moment.
That scenario was a delight to the eyes and music to the ears.
I am a proud fan, just like thousands of those rooting for the blue and white, who were once again convinced that we were never wrong in choosing who to support.
The Lady Eagles are brave fighters who never give up.
They are the warriors that struggled, worked hard, and succeeded.
It is the team that most people doubted, hated, mocked, and was counted out.
And yes, it is the team that remains unassuming, focused, and hardworking:
It is the young Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team, right there at the Finals.
Finals, baby. Finals.
I remembered I kept praying to God that He may let the team with the biggest and most deserving hearts win the bid to the finals.
Thank You, Lord.
You never fail.
The Lady Eagles, indeed, have the biggest and strongest of hearts.
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