Fajardo and Valdez’s journey to greatness

As Kim Fajardo and La Salle bask in the glory of marching back to the UAAP women’s volleyball finals against rival Alyssa Valdez and Ateneo de Manila, a low-profile mentor was quietly celebrating, pumping his fist as if he also achieved something.

Francis Vicente’s team – University of the East – isn’t exactly as sensational as either La Salle or Ateneo this season.

In fact, the Lady Warriors finished dead last in the eight-team field and their only cause for celebration was when they finally snapped their 58-game losing streak.

But still, Vicente was happy.

And the fact that his proteges in two of today’s brightest volleyball stars – Fajardo and Valdez – figuring in their fifth straight UAAP finals showdown makes him even more jubilant.

[quote]“Seeing them successful makes me happy. I’m like a proud father who sees my daughters doing well in life.”[/quote]

[quote cite=’Francis Vicente, former coach (UST)’]”The moment I saw how hard they work, I instantly knew that both of them are destined for greatness.”[/quote]

Humble beginning

Before embracing the bright lights of the UAAP, Fajardo and Valdez were training as unassuming high school girls in a dimly-lighted gym inside the campus University of Santo Tomas (UST).

Fajardo wasn’t yet a prolific setter while Valdez was still a lanky spiker who has no traces of becoming a star.

[quote]Kim Fajardo was an opposite spiker. But with Rhea Dimaculangan set for graduation, I told her that the only way to land a spot in the loaded UST seniors team is if you will be converted into a setter. She took the pains of working hard to become the best setter in the UAAP.”[/quote]

[quote cite=’Francis Vicente, former coach (UST)’]“As for Alyssa, she approached me one day and said that she wants to be the best player in the league. So I told her: Just work hard, listen to me and you will go far. True enough, look at her now: she is one of the best players in the UAAP today.”[/quote]

Fajardo and Valdez, together with Dindin Manabat, Maruja Banaticla, Aerieal Patnongon and Jaja Santiago, led UST to three consecutive UAAP high school titles from 2008 to 2010.

Valdez’s promise

Vicente’s assistant, Kungfu Reyes, also witnessed Fajardo and Valdez’s transformation, saying that their intense hunger and drive to succeed will create a major impact in the UAAP finals set to start on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

He said Fajardo is a born-fighter while Valdez is a visionary as she made a promise of matching her three titles in high school the moment she steps on the collegiate level.

[quote]“I still remember when she said that she wants to match her achievement of winning three titles in high school.”[/quote]

[quote cite=’Kungfu Reyes, former assistant coach (UST)’] “I think Alyssa will fulfill her promise. She knows what she wants and she has been working hard for it. This is going to be an exciting series for both Kim and Alyssa.”[/quote]

Reyes is now the mentor of UST seniors squad.

Vicente, however, said that whoever wins, he will still continue to play a key role in the lives of both Fajardo and Valdez.

[quote]“They have my number; they can call me any time and ask for advice.”[/quote]

[quote cite=’Francis Vicente, former coach (UST)’]“After all, fathers know best.” [/quote]