Defining the 2010s: Jovelyn Gonzaga won’t stop fighting

Editor’s Note: As the decade draws to a close, FOX Sports Philippines relive the moments that defined volleyball in the country.

From classic rivalries to player highlights, volleyball in the 2010s is definitely one for the books — a chapter in the sports that will be remembered in the next decade and, most probably, the decade after that.

This article is part of FOX Sports PH’s Defining the 2010s series.

The Guimaras native was at the top of the local volleyball scene until a career-changing injury in 2017 kept her out of the court for a year. In 2019, she marked her return in the best way possible — with three club team medals and her national team comeback. But in this year-end special, Jovelyn Gonzaga tells Fox Sports PH just how close she was to hanging her jersey for good.


Words by Denver Del Rosario
Banner photo from Sports Vision


“Are you afraid–” I pause, right in the middle of the interview. Jovelyn Gonzaga looks at me from the other side of the table, and she knows I held back. Unlike me, there is no hesitation on her part as she comes up with a smile, like she already knows the question that I, too, am scared of asking but curious about knowing the answer. Are you afraid of being injured again?

Two years ago, Gonzaga was at the top of Philippine volleyball. A recipient of numerous individual and team accolades, the 5-foot-8 lefty has been regarded as one of the country’s best opposite hitters. She proved unstoppable every which way — until the unfortunate happened. A major knee injury forced her out of the court for the whole of 2018, turning her continuing rise to a frustrating halt. 

We converse in a Philippine Army canteen as she looks occasionally at the cadets going over a morning drill while she thinks about my question. Her eyes are calm and wise, as expected of an athlete who has survived her greatest challenges yet. Her nature is steady and amiable, a character generous with her experiences. 

“‘Yung fear, laging nandoon, hindi nawawala; lalo na nung naglaro kami against Indonesia na may na-injure sa kalaban, na-distract ako doon,” she replies, at last. She additionally recalls their game against the Foton Tornadoes last October, where CJ Rosario fell down with a knee injury in the third set. “Nag-time out agad si Coach Ed no’n, kasi alam niyang mabilis akong ma-bother.”

“Nandoon ‘yung fear, pero once na naglalaro na ako, hindi ko na iyon naiisip,” she concludes. 

Despite the unwavering assurance in her voice, Gonzaga admits that she, too, was once afraid to ask herself if she would ever be ready to go back again. To stay away from the sport for a whole year proved to be a difficult mountain to climb, but she made it through; in reality, her year-long absence from the court gave her a much better perspective on her career.

Gonzaga has been busy since her awaited comeback, but now she finally gets to have a much-needed break.  Many days have passed since their unsuccessful campaign in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, where the Philippine national women’s volleyball team failed to get on the podium after finishing the tournament winless, including their five-set heartbreak in their bronze medal match against Indonesia. 

She vividly remembers the crucial stretch of what could have been their saving grace of the tournament. The team already felt like glory was within reach when they led Indonesia in the fifth set, 12-8, before the guest team rallied back to bring the game closer, 12-13. When Ces Molina scored a through-the-block hit to set up match point, 14-12, Gonzaga thought they had it. All they needed was one more play to get their long-awaited medal, the first since 2005.

But the point never came; instead, Indonesia went on to score four straight points to end the match and claim bronze.

“Ang sarap na nga sa feeling nung naka-14 na kami; naghihintay na lang kami ng huling puntos. Pero hindi e, eto na naman kami, na sorry na naman ang sasabihin namin,” she says. Gonzaga admits the whole team was left in frustration. In retrospect, she knows they could’ve pulled off the victory: many of them, if not the whole national team, have been competing in international tournaments since 2015. Just a few days before, they bowed down to Vietnam also in five sets, so a lesson should have been learned. They were so close, just one step short of stepping back on the podium and hopefully giving their detractors a little peace of mind. But, maybe, it still wasn’t their time.

And yet, after their disappointing campaign, Gonzaga is fine. There is no chaos in how she reflects on what they did or did not do, only a steady admission of how far they have come.

At first, she cried, along with everyone else; only tears of disappointment and frustration were heard in their dugout post-game. “Para kaming namatayan,” she recalls. But it was especially painful for Gonzaga, Aby Marano, and Alyssa Valdez, who have been bannering the squad in the regional meet since 2015, but to no avail. The opposite spiker has always been vocal and passionate about wanting to give the Philippines a medal in women’s volleyball, but she has failed yet again. 

“Gusto kong manalo. Sino bang hindi gustong magka-medalya? Ilang taon na naming sinusubukan nila Aby at Alyssa; three consecutive SEA Games na kaming magkakasama. Gusto rin naming magbalik sa mga taong naniniwala sa amin, na sana huwag silang mapagod sa amin. Pero eto, sayang, sorry na naman, magpo-post na naman kami ng: “Sorry, we fell short.”” She says.

But after a while, regret slowly turned into gratitude. Not bad for a team that was only finalized a month before the SEA Games, she says. Not bad for a team that gave the others a fight to remember, she adds. Acceptance meant days mulling over the outcome, but now she has moved forward, hoping the stars will align for them next time.

Ultimately, Gonzaga has no complaints — after all, there are so many things this year that she is thankful for: winning three medals for two different teams in two different leagues, donning the tricolors for the third time in a row, and, most importantly, getting the chance to play the sport she loves.

Sobrang puno ng taon ko. Every day, hindi ko nakakalimutang magdasal na matapos ko ‘yung araw na safe and sound, since ‘yung tuhod ko is coming from an injury. Grabe din ‘yung commitment ko na dalawang team — halos hindi na ako nakakapagpahinga, tapos dagdagan mo pa ng national team. Pero sobrang grateful ako sa blessings na binibigay ni Lord sa akin. Bakit pa ako magi-inarte? Bakit ko pa tatanggihan?” she says.

Throughout the years, Gonzaga still stands as one of the most reliable all-around players in the local volleyball industry. Since her comeback, her game has not been as quick and flashy as before but is still efficient and reliable. Her pre-injury performance was touted by enthusiasts as one of the best in the nation: she was quick, deadly in attack, and scrappy in the backrow. But she’s a different Jovelyn Gonzaga now — one who is much wiser and steadier, one who makes do with what she has.

What never changed, though, is the immense amount of fight she shows on the court. Once she puts her mind into the game, Gonzaga will never give up on a play no matter how improbable — whether the ball is too far or the set is too tight, she will find a way to score or keep the play alive. Her passion is as strong as her resilience: to play for two different teams in two different leagues at the same time can be taxing, but she insists she doesn’t want to waste an opportunity to play volleyball, not after being given a second chance. She might have not completely regained her full form, but she will always have the heart.

Ang masasabi ko lang, puso at determinasyon ang [kanyang] puhunan. Isa siyang inspirasyon. She helps the team not only in scoring but also [with her] leadership. We need that,” said co-senior Alyssa Valdez on Gonzaga’s return to the tricolor squad, serving as a testimonial to how vital the latter’s role is in the national team.

But while her comeback serves as a tale of inspiration to many, Gonzaga admits she almost gave up on her dream.

2017 seems like a long time ago. Blogger Mocha Uson was appointed as a government official, ‘fake news’ became a prominent discourse, Uber’s operations were suspended by the LTFRB, and war-torn Marawi was finally liberated. 

But for Gonzaga, only one thing comes to mind.

Painful memories can’t be forgotten so easily; how the turning point in her career happened is still clear in her mind. She narrates the details carefully: November 21, San Juan Arena, Cignal HD went up against F2 Logistics. In the second set, she jumped for the kill, and then she landed with a single leg before completely falling to the floor. The audience let out a collective gasp, and her teammates voiced out their worries. 

But the only thing she heard was three consecutive pops. At that moment, nothing around her seemed to matter.

“Ang pumasok agad sa isip ko, paano na ‘yung family ko, kasi ako ‘yung nagpo-provide para sa pamilya ko — at the same time, paano ‘yung career ko, kasi usually kapag may na-injure, hindi na nakakabalik nang malakas.”

“Sa dugout, grabe ‘yung iyak ko; kahit anong comforting words, useless talaga,” she recalls.

That day, Gonzaga was officially diagnosed with an injured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee. However, she had to wait until the last week of January the following year before undergoing surgery.

2018 marked what she considers the toughest yet most rewarding year of her life. After her knee operation, she went straight to rehabilitation for three months — a period she describes as ‘boring’. Her daily schedule consisted of traveling from the Philippine Army Wellness Center in Taguig all the way to the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center in Katipunan, which is supposed to be a little-over-an-hour drive on a good day. 

“Ako lang mag-isa no’n. Magta-travel ka ng isang oras, tapos may kasama pang traffic. Sasamahan ka pa ng rehab mong almost half a day; magsisimula akong lunch, matatapos ako ng 7 pm. Tapos bibiyahe pa ako pauwi. Ang process, paulit-ulit, back to zero talaga — puro weights training, na darating sa point na mahihilo ka,” she recalls.

Even before her knee operation, Gonzaga knew the recovery process would be an uphill battle. Keeping herself from watching games was already painful as it is, but the first three months of rehabilitation proved to be the hardest to get through. Putting volleyball on a distance, she says, really does things to a player; she had to constantly remind herself that giving up is not an option. 

“Nung time na injured ako, never akong nanuod ng volleyball kasi nandoon pa rin ‘yung pain. Nilayo ko talaga ang sarili ko. Dumating ako sa point na ayoko nang maglaro: paano kung mag-business na lang kaya ako? Mag-coach na lang kaya ako? Nandoon na ako sa point na gusto kong sumuko, pero hindi e, kasi may goal ako,” she admits.

For her, distraction was easy to find: she binge-watched various movies and television series in her free time, and she found more time to reconnect with her family and friends. Everyone around her said the injury was the universe’s way to let her slow down and take things easy. “Sabi nga nila, kapag ako lang nag-desisyon para sa sarili ko, hindi talaga ako magpapahinga, which is true,” she says, laughing at the idea.

While she took some time to sit back for a while, she knew she still had her work cut out for her. So after spending the first three months of 2018 in rehab, she took the initiative to put herself in military school, an experience that significantly changed her perspective on her volleyball career. 

Gonzaga sighs as she recalls six months of learning military discipline, an almost-18 hour daily regimen that proved too much at first but then grew on her after a while. She tells me to look at the cadets doing their morning drill, saying what they are doing is nowhere near half the everyday training. To wake up at four in the morning and only get to sleep two hours before midnight felt overwhelming at first, but it was a sacrifice she was willing to make if it meant a stronger version of herself.

Looking back, Gonzaga thanks her military training for preparing her for the true challenges of life. If not for those six months, she wouldn’t have known how to handle two club team commitments at once; she wouldn’t have had both the physical and mental strength to go on. 

“Thankful ako kasi pinalakas niya ‘yung resistance and mentality ko — na-realize ko na kaya ko pala, na mas lalong tumibay ‘yung utak ko sa challenges na haharapin ko sa labas. Dahil sa military training, nagawa kong hatiin ‘yung time ko sa Army at sa Cignal. Kung wala akong military training at dating buhay ko lang, parang hindi ko kakayanin kasi palaantukin ako tsaka mabilis akong mapagod. Dahil sa military training, tumibay ako,” she says. 

With her newfound fortitude, she spent the last quarter of 2018 back in rehabilitation to further strengthen her body. She didn’t want to waste any chances — she would go back to zero all over again if it meant having another opportunity to stand on the court anew. But putting in the work was just half the journey; staying motivated was another. For an athlete who faced a career-changing injury, keeping the fire burning proved to be the biggest struggle.

I ask her about who she draws inspiration from. She immediately brings up her family and her teammates, but she is also quick to mention her nephew CV, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She lightens up as she talks about the three-year-old kid and how grateful she is after the volleyball community united to extend financial help for her nephew’s medical needs.

After four cycles of treatment, CV is showing signs of improvement. He’s still cheerful and naughty, Gonzaga says. “Sa nakikita ko, he’s getting better — very positive kami na mabe-beat niya ang cancer. Never niyang inisip na may sakit siya,” she says.

The kid’s optimism despite his illness has been a huge driving force in her passion for volleyball. She has no right, she says, to ever give up on her career when she sees her nephew fighting. “Si CV nga, lumalaban e — ako pa kaya na kumpleto?”

2018 was when she detached herself from volleyball, and yet it was also the year when everything seemed to fall into place. Looking back, she knows it is her time away from the court that helped her realize her true potential and rekindle her love for the sport. 

It was an uphill climb for Gonzaga, but she came through. Finally, she was ready to go back. 

2019, she says, has been about resurgence and redemption. When the Pacifictown-Army Lady Troopers marked their return to the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference this year, all eyes were on Gonzaga, who was making a comeback of her own. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the athlete back in action, eager to witness just how much her game has changed from over a year ago. 

First few games in, the scoring wasn’t as much compared to her former output. Unlike their previous campaigns, the Lady Troopers were still performing even without her doing much damage. And yet she was patient. She knew she was still physically unfit, still a bit slow in her movements — but she trusted the process. The pressure to keep up with everyone’s expectations was there, but it was easy to disregard when her whole team only expected her to have fun and take her time. 

She laughs as she reminds me of a memory of how confident she was when we asked her to rate her performance in a post-game interview early in the conference. “One time, in-interview niyo ako, tinanong niyo kung anong percent na ako — sabi ko, 100 percent. Pero doon pala sa laro ko, nasa fifty to sixty percent pa lang ako. Malakas ang utak ko, pero ang katawan ko, hindi pa. Nung pagbalik ko, kapaan pa talaga, pero hindi ko pine-pressure ang sarili ko. Laging nandoon ‘yung alalay at reminders na wag kong i-todo, at mag-relax lang,” she recalls. 

The course back to reclaiming her dominance proved long and difficult as the season went by. While her performance steadily improved with each game, people couldn’t help but compare her current form with her pre-injury showing, an era many still consider as the peak in her career. When I mention how strong she was prior to her ACL tear, she is dumbfounded.

Gonzaga laughs as she thanks her ‘short-term’ memory for preventing everyone’s expectations to affect her game. “Alam mo, ang dami ngang nagsasabi sa akin niyan, na sayang daw kasi nasa peak daw ako noon, na malakas daw talaga ako bago ako ma-injure. Kapag sinasabi kong, “Uy, parang lumalakas na ako ulit ha”, may nagsasabi na mas malakas pa ako dati. Pero good thing na hindi ko maalala, kasi walang pressure sa akin,” she recalls.

The opposite spiker admits the change was foreign, but a necessary part of her journey. Obviously, she wasn’t the same player she was over a year ago; there was self-growth as much as there were pieces of regression. Before the Reinforced Conference even started, she already accepted that she wouldn’t be considered the main offensive option, knowing it was her first time back and with the Lady Troopers loaded with other reliable spikers. She knew her role with the team — from being a scoring leader to mainly contributing in defense. It was silent but steady.

So it was especially sweet for Gonzaga when her team finished the tournament on the podium, winning the bronze medal series against the Banko Perlas Spikers. She vividly remembers how the extended winner-take-all match concluded — she delivered the game-winning ace before letting herself cry on the floor. That fifth was all Gonzaga; she delivered for the Lady Troopers just when they needed her most. 

To finish her first conference back standing on the podium was redemption. For Gonzaga, the glory was as much for her team as it was for herself. “Feeling ko doon ako nagsimulang umingay ulit; naramdaman ko ulit, somehow, ‘yung lumang ako. Ang sarap sa feeling kasi tambak kami noon, at bilang ayokong nagpapatalo, attitude lang talaga ako — kapag umatake ‘yung kabila, block ako; kapag binigyan ako ng set, papaluin ko; kapag magse-serve ako, ia-ace ko,” she says.

“Alam kong hindi ako iyon e, hindi ko control iyon lahat. In God’s perfect timing talaga,” she says.

Good things kept happening to Gonzaga’s career from then on. Her other club team Cignal HD Spikers went on to an improbable run in the Philippine Superliga All-Filipino Conference. In what was probably one of the best volleyball games of the year, the HD Spikers put up a gallant stand against the Petron Blaze Spikers in their first semifinal game as they rallied from seven points down in the fourth set, 15-22, to force a fifth set and take the game, erasing the latter’s twice-to-beat advantage and extending the series to a do-or-die match. 

Contributing four crucial points in their fourth set rally, Gonzaga says their semifinal series against Petron is one of the highlights of her year, knowing they had the chance to take themselves to the PSL finals. Just when reporters were ready to hit the publish button, Cignal came storming right back for a different headline.

“Hindi ko talaga inasahan, kasi malinaw na sa lahat na Petron na iyon. Pero nahabol pa namin. Ang dami ngang nagsabi na para siyang fairytale. At that time, sabi sa amin ng management na okay lang kung matalo tayo kasi napanalo naman natin ‘yung puso ng fans,” she says.

With their morale on an all-time high, Gonzaga and the HD Spikers never looked back as they overpowered Petron in their do-or-die semifinal game, toppling a championship duel that has long reigned over the league.

Ultimately, her team fell short in the finals against eventual champions F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. But for Gonzaga, they have already won before they even got there.  “Nung championship, iniisip pa namin kung makakapuno ba kami ng venue, kasi alam naman ng lahat na ang mainit na labanan ay Petron at F2. Paglabas namin, ang daming tao,” she recalls.

After their All-Filipino campaign, Gonzaga continued to help Cignal’s campaign in the PSL as they took the bronze medal in the Invitationals.

For Gonzaga, everything was enough. To bring her two club teams to podium finishes was already a blessing from above: just a year ago, she wasn’t sure if she could ever go back to the sport, but she achieved more than she ever hoped for. 

But the universe wasn’t done writing her story of resurgence.

When the first list for the national team came out, Gonzaga wasn’t on the list. The lineup was already filled with talent: mainstays Valdez and Marano provided the much-needed leadership as newcomers Kalei Mau and Alohi Robins-Hardy entered to provide fresh potential for the national team. Given her long layoff from the sport, she knew she wasn’t as good as she was before. She wanted another shot, but she understood; for her, donning the tricolors for indoor volleyball was a dream she was ready to let go.

Initially, Gonzaga was called up to represent the country in beach volleyball, together with Sisi Rondina, Bernadeth Pons, and Dzi Gervacio. When the opportunity came, she was happy. “Nagising ako isang araw na may naniniwala pa rin pala sa kakayahan ko,” she says. 

Having accepted her fate, she almost set her beach volleyball duties to stone. But one message from national team head coach Shaq Delos Santos changed her mind: 

“Jov, may tanong sana ako: Willing ka pa ba?”

She recalls how excited she felt when she saw the text. “Ang feeling ko talaga no’n, thank you Lord, kasi siya ang piloto ng lahat. Wala akong hinihingi, naglalaro ako nang buong puso — si Lord na ‘yung nagre-reward sa akin,” she says. She replied yes in a heartbeat: getting the chance to represent the country for the third time is a dream come true, a fitting ode to her younger self. 

Gonzaga’s beginnings were humble, too genuine. On a makeshift court in the middle of Guimaras, she sees her elementary self playing with other kids she invited from all over her neighborhood. “Uuwi iyon ng mga bahay nila na umiiyak, kasi pinapagalitan ko kapag naglalaro,” she reminisces, laughing at the memory. 

She wasn’t the most outgoing kid, never learned how to swim even when her province is surrounded by pristine waters, but she was passionate about sports. Volleyball was her first love, but then came chess and table tennis, with the latter almost becoming her main thing before her school principal intervened. 

Muntikan na akong mag-quit sa volleyball dahil sa table tennis. Kaso ‘yung principal namin sa school, nagalit, kasi gusto niya ako sa volleyball,” she says, laughing. “Thankful din ako sa kanya, kasi kung hindi dahil sa kanya, na-pursue ko na ‘yung table tennis.”

The sport, she says, was already popular back then. But unlike the fans of today who are up to date with everything, Gonzaga and others like her had to wait for the newspaper to catch up. She regards legends Michelle Carolino, Mary Jean Balse, and Tina Salak as her idols growing up, admitting she joined the Lady Troopers to play alongside them.

Life back then in Guimaras was low, she says. Her mom owned a carinderia, while her dad was a former tricycle driver; with their situation, supporting five kids proved difficult. But she had a dream. She wanted to make something out of herself and she was determined. Life was hard, Gonzaga says, but volleyball was easy: it has been one of the only few things remaining constant in her life.

“Hindi ko naisip na walang volleyball. Nung college, kailangan kong pumili ng course — pero hindi ko talaga alam kung ano. Sa utak ko, volleyball lang talaga,” she admits.

She has always wanted to represent the country ever since her younger days; this year, she marked her third time donning the tricolors. Coming back to the national team was a big task to fulfill especially for her who took a while before returning to the sport, but she was eager — she wanted to see how much has changed since two years ago, to showcase her own skills and gauge her level.

This year was especially memorable for Gonzaga with the Philippines hosting the SEA Games. She had the time of her life at the opening ceremonies in the Philippine Arena, where they were welcomed with unwavering pride by the home crowd. She remembers seeing the flags, the lights, the people singing to Hotdog’s ‘Manila’ as they walked in: it is a memory she keeps close to her heart.

I bring up the moment where the country’s sports legends carried the SEA Games Federation flag; she immediately gets excited as I am. Lydia De Vega-Mercado, Paeng Nepomuceno. Bong Coo, Onyok Velasco, Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes, Akiko Thomson, Eric Buhain, and Alvin Patrimonio — these are names we study in our sibika classes. To see them together in one event was exciting for the public, much more for the athletes.

“Isipin mo, mga world champion sila, parang mapapaisip ka na paano nila ginawa? Anong preparation nila? Anong mentality nila? Anong kinakain nila?” she says. “Ang nakikita ko talaga, heroes. Isa silang inspirasyon.”

Before the tournament started, Gonzaga says the team came together to talk about their games and set their expectations. At that point, much has happened to the national team: players got ejected and brought in at the last minute. To finish at the podium would be a difficult challenge, but Gonzaga told her teammates not to worry and just pour their hearts out for the country.

“Yung gabi bago kami kami maglaro, kinausap kaming lahat: “Isa-isa kayong magsalita kung anong masasabi niyo sa magiging laro natin bukas.” Ang sinabi ko lang sa team, nandito lang ako kapag kailangan niyo ako,” she recalls.

Everyone knows how their campaign ended: winless in four games played. Gonzaga, who has always wanted to give the Philippines a medal in women’s volleyball, admits her frustration with how things ended, but she chooses to look at the silver lining.

Throughout the tournament, she saw a bright future for the national team; she regards Mylene Paat, Eya Laure, and Maddie Madayag as the hope of Philippine volleyball. Seeing them play especially in pressure-packed moments made Gonzaga proud and even work harder as a teammate.

“Kapag nagsasabay sila Maddie, Eya, at Paat sa loob, nasasabi ko na future talaga. Sobrang happy ko for them. Nagiging morale-booster din sila sa akin; kapag nakikita mong nagtatrabaho ‘yung mga bata, parang ang gagawin ko na lang ay dumepensa. Susuportahan ko sila sa likod, kasi gumagawa sila sa harap,” she says. 

Paat, who also plays opposite, has nothing but kind words for her senior. She regards Gonzaga not just as a good teammate, but also a good friend. “Isa siyang leader. We learn from her and she learns from us. Hindi siya madamot sa kung anong meron siya. Nagpapalitan kami ng istorya, at nagpapayuhan kami sa isa’t isa,” she says.

Gonzaga still has more to give to the national team, but she knows time is catching up with her. In the next SEA Games, she will be 30. She isn’t sure if she will still be fit to don the tricolors by then. But she is definitely not shutting her doors: after all, she still hasn’t fulfilled her dream of bringing glory back to the country. And even if she isn’t asked to return, she wants the younger ones to finish what they started.

“Sana mapasama pa ako, pero kung hindi man, sana makuha ng mga bata. Iyon talaga ang pangarap ko nung bata pa ako: gusto ko talagang mabigyan ng medalya ang Pilipinas. Ayoko pang mag-retire nang hindi pa nabibigyan, pero pasikip na ng pasikip ang panahon e,” she says hopingly.

Before we wrap up the interview, she offers to buy me a bottle of water. She knows I will travel far so early in the morning (Fort Bonifacio to Fairview is not commuter-friendly at all). She gives me the cold drink as she goes back to her seat across mine. Then I ask my last question: What is your takeaway from your comeback this year? 

Gonzaga is silent for a while before coming up with her answer. In retrospect, she knows she wouldn’t have done it all — brought her two club teams to podium finishes, proved her worth to the national team — if not for the time she spent struggling and finding her purpose outside the court. If there is anything she wants other people to learn from her story, it is attitude — a concept she further learned in military training. With the right attitude and outlook, nothing is out of reach.

She remarks: “Kung hindi mo siya sasamahan ng attitude, wala kang mapupuntahan. Iyon ang sinama ko sa journey ko, pati ‘yung faith ko kay Lord. Simula nung na-injure ako at sa lahat ng naging problema ko, I never asked why. At the same time, utang na loob din sa mga taong naniniwala’t nagtitiwala sa akin; dahil doon, mas naging magaan ang journey ko this 2019.”

She recalls FEU’s Lycha Ebon, a talented young lefty who fell down to a knee injury in the UAAP, asking her for advice. She tells her it is easy to surrender, but she must fight. Many players have fallen victim to potentially career-ending injuries, but Gonzaga carried on — so did Ara Galang, Kathy Bersola, Des Cheng, and Dindin Santiago-Manabat, among others. With her comeback story, she hopes to be a source of motivation for others who are experiencing the same struggle she had two years ago.

She says: “Sana maging inspiration kami para hindi sila mawalan ng pag-asa. Kasi I assure you, samahan niyo ng attitude, makakabalik kayo nang malakas. You have control over yourself — may rehab, may operation, mapapalakas ka niya, but it’s about your outlook along the process. Lalakas at lalakas ang katawan mo, pero ‘yung utak mo ang mahirap palakasin, kaya dapat sabay sila.”

At last, our interview ends. She thanks me for my time, and then I ask her for a picture. She tells me she will be going home to Guimaras during the holidays, the first time in a long time. I tell her to tour around the province as she has never been, and she laughs. 

Before I go, I ask in curiosity if her knee is fully healed; she says yes. I tell her many people — reporters, fans, and teammates alike — still fear for her safety whenever she takes a little while to stand up after a spike. We don’t want to see you get injured again, I say.

She tells me not to worry. Because like a volleyball game, life is full of stumbling and falling down to the ground, she says. But what matters is that we stand back up again.