Laizah Bendong: the unlikely leader in the Best Setter race

One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises in the UAAP Season 81 Women’s Volleyball Tournament so far is the emergence of University of the East’s Laizah Bendong as the leader in the Best Setter race.

Though the Lady Warriors are currently at the bottom half of the standings with a 2-8 win-loss record, Bendong’s performance as playmaker did not go unnoticed as she averaged 6.98 excellent sets per frame in their last 10 games.

If volleyball fans were surprised with the tally, they need not worry for Bendong herself says the development was unexpected on her end, too.

“Ang laging nagre-remind sa akin si Kuya Migz (Gomez): ‘Lai, anong feeling mo na ikaw na ‘yung leading setter?’ Tapos parang ako: ‘Ha? Ako?’ Kahit ako mismo hindi ko din siya nakita sa sarili ko. Kahit ako nagugulat,” she told Volleyverse.

“Sa amin kasi expected nang gagawa si Kath (Arado) tsaka si Mean (Mendrez). Hindi ko inakala na magiging malaki pala ang contribution ko,” she added.

The Lady Warriors’ last two outings may have ended in heartbreaking five-set losses. But in both matches, Bendong surpassed the numbers of fellow veteran playmakers Kyle Negrito of FEU and Ayel Estranero of UP.

Against the Lady Tamaraws, Bendong dished 42 excellent sets while tallying 39 on Wednesday’s battle against the Lady Maroons.

But what changed in training? Other than UE head coach Karl Dimaculangan’s unyielding trust in her, not much, according to Bendong.

“Wala namang binago si coach. Usual training pa din naman. Ang isang naiba lang is ‘yung tiwala ni coach sa akin,” she shared. “Sa lahat ng mga coaches, siya ang malaki ang tiwala sa akin. Siya ‘yung unang nagtiwala. Nauna pa siya nagtiwala sa akin kesa sa ako sa sarili ko. Doubtful ako eh. Maya’t maya sinasabihan niya ako na kaya ko.”

Bendong also recognizes that her sudden surge in the setters’ race is hugely because of UE’s exemplary reception and digging where they are first and second in the league, respectively. But most of the praises she wants to direct towards Dimaculangan who was also a solid playmaker during his turn as a UST Tiger Spiker.

“Wala siyang paki sa height ko. Basta nakaka-contribute ako okay na,” she said.

“Dinagdagan niya lang ako ng tiwala. Sobrang baba kasi ng confidence ko dati. Ngayon pag nakita ko nakakapalo ang spikers nakakatuwa. Tapos sasabihan niya ako: ‘Sabi ko sa’yo kaya mo eh,’” added the graduating player.

And even though she feels some regret regarding her late improvement in the UAAP, Bendong plans to make the most out of it as her collegiate career starts to wind down.

“Sa loob ng limang taon ko, sayang ‘yung tatlong taon ko. Kung pwede lang ibalik eh. Kaso wala nang magagawa. Focus na lang sa future games,” she closed.