Right after UST failed to make it to the Final 4 of the UAAP women’s volleyball last season 75, I was already hell-bent on finding out whether or not Maruja Banaticla will use her fifth and final year as a Golden Tigress.
Unfortunately, just like the rest of y’all, I was unsuccessful in getting a solid decision from her for several months.
The responses I get from her would vary from “Di pa ako sure, Ma.” to “Pinag-iisipan ko pa po.”
There I was, clueless and impatiently waiting for an answer as if it’s an acceptance letter coming from a prestigious university I took an entrance exam in.
To my delight, last October 23, 2013, the day before my birthday, I got a tweet from her that says:
There was no better birthday gift than this. A confirmation from Maru herself that she will be donning her black-gold-white jersey one last time.
After losing a lot of weight and gaining her old form back during the off-season, I was positive that she could lead UST back to the Final 4 where it truly belongs.
And then November 7, 2013 happened.
On my way to the Philippine Super Liga launch at URBN Bar and Kitchen, I received a couple of text messages asking why did Maru decide not to play for UST anymore.
Needless to say, I was shocked.
I didn’t want to believe it. I was in denial, I guess.
So, I came to the PSL launch as planned and thought to myself “I’ll just talk to her tomorrow.”
I didn’t have to.
She was there.
With the team (PLDT) she is supposedly playing for after deciding to “quit” her collegiate career.
There it was.
The final answer that broke thousands of hearts.
We hugged. A little hug that meant so many things.
And this is what she has to say:
“Ma, I promise maglalaro talaga ako.”
“Yung pagsali ko sa V-league/Smart, ipinagpaalam ko yun kay coach Odjie at kay Father, at pumayag sila.”
At this point, she was already in tears.
“Araw-araw, gumigising ako ng maaga para mag-jog kasi nagpapa-payat ako.”
“Nagpapa-kundisyon kasi pinaghahandaan ko din yung UAAP.”
So, okay. I don’t get it. She wants to play but she will not?
“Nagulat na lang po ako. Tinanong ako ni Kuya Kevin Ferrer (UST-MBT) ng ‘O? Bakit di ka naka-line-up?'”
“Clueless ako, Ma. Natuliro ako.”
Inconsolable, she continues and says:
“Pagbalik namin dito galing Bacolod after ng UniGames, kinabukasan I was there sa training.”
“Determined talaga ako na maglalaro ako. Kaya nung nalaman ko yun, nagpatulong ako kay Papa para malaman ano nangyari.”
Little by little, I was starting to connect the dots and understand her side of the story.
“Pumunta kami ng UST at may nagsabi nga sa amin na, oo. Hindi nga daw ako ila-line-up ni coach.”
“Ang sakit, Ma.”
She didn’t need to say it. The pain was written all over her face.
“Mahal na mahal ko kasi ang UST eh.”
“Gusto ko pa lumaro eh. Gustong gusto ko pa. Alam mo yan!”
Yes. I know for a fact that she badly wanted to make up for her measly output last season and help the team get back on its feet.
She seemed really heartbroken to the point that her PLDT teammate, Sher Peñano, handed her tissues to wipe away the tears that’s starting to ruin her “patented” blush-on and eyeliner.
“Kaso sabi ni Papa wag na. Hayaan na kung anong desisyon niya.”
“Tama na daw yung sakit. Ayaw niya ng makita na nagkaka-ganito ako.”
*insert more tears from both Maru and me here*
“Salamat kay Papa.”
“Sabay kaming pumasok sa UST nung bata pa ako at dinala niya ako dito.”
“Sabay din kaming lumabas at nakapag-paalam sa management ng maayos.”
Regardless of the heartbreak, she still has nothing but good words for her alma mater.
“My loyalty will forever be with UST.”
“Proud ako na Tomasino ako.”
Her voice cracked as pain evidently welled up again from within.
“Proud ako na pinili nila ako na maging part ng team at proud ako na sila din ang pinili ko nung pag graduate ko ng high school.”
The party was starting to wind down and her teammates were already telling her that they need to go elsewhere and eat.
To close it, I just asked for a message for all the people who supported her throughout her years as a student-athlete.
Weeping, she says:
“Ayoko ng goodbye-goodbye.”
“Makikita pa din nila ako. Maglalaro pa din ako.”
“Ahhm, eto na lang..”
And that is how you make an exit.
Continue to be fierce, fun and fabulous, Maru! We will always be here to support you. Thank you for being classy. Thank you for playing for our beloved team, UST.
Maraming, maraming salamat sa pagpapasaya mo sa amin sa di mabilang na laro kung saan binigay mo ang buong puso mo.
Saludo! And this time, it is “One FROM UST!!!”
Photo courtesy of Sir Joey Villaluz