Under the bright lights of the Paco Arena, the towering presence of Mary Joy Baron is seen training intensively with the women’s national volleyball team. Once a player for the DLSU Lady Spikers during her collegiate years, Baron has since entered a new chapter of her career—donning the national colors in several regional meets this year, including the recently-concluded Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Earlier this year, she was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Best Middle Blocker in the 2019 Philippine SuperLiga Invitationals Cup. Further amassing accolades and earning international recognition, Baron was also distinguished as the Best Middle Blocker in both legs of the 2019 ASEAN Grand Prix. Solidifying her credentials as an athlete both on the local and global stage, the 5-foot-11-inch standout has proven that she can dominate the court at any level of competition. 

From starting small to being on top

The former Lady Spiker expresses gratitude for what the University has given her—a great education and a stepping stone for a career in sports. “’Yung naging environment ko sa [La Salle], sobrang nag-grow ako as a person and mas na-build ‘yung character ko,” she shares, adding that playing for a team with a “winning tradition” gave her the “edge” in various competitions.

(The environment I experienced in La Salle helped me to really grow as a person and further built my character.)

Playing under coach Ramil De Jesus during her whole stay in DLSU, the 23-year-old believes that she has picked up many lessons from his system. One that has remained with her is the sense of hard work that the decorated coach has instilled, as Baron discusses, “’Yung work ethic. Kapag binigay mo ‘yung 100 percent mo in training, lalabas nalang siya sa game, parang effortless.”

(If you give your 100 percent in training, then it will come out during the game almost effortlessly.)

Moving on from the Green-and-White, she has since gone on to play for local professional club F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. While the level of competition has been raised a notch, there is a sense of comfort for the middle blocker as she plays alongside several former Lasallians and trains under a familiar face. Since De Jesus’ coaching style is something she was exposed to over the years, Baron can easily identify what distinguishes his system from other coaches. “Papagurin ka talaga niya. ‘Yung repetition, doon ka talaga matututodoon mo talaga maeexceed ‘yung limit mo,” she describes.

(He’ll really push you until you feel exhausted. The continuous repetition of the tasks and movements enables you to really learn—to exceed your own limits.)

When she was offered the chance to represent the Philippines, Baron once again had to make a decision—a decision that she gladly accepted. The UAAP Season 79 MVP sees being called to suit up for the national team as a golden opportunity to level up her career, relishing the prospect of being developed by such talented coaches. 

Balancing playing for club and country under two different systems, Baron does her best to ultimately learn everything she can from each mentor. While she has become well-versed with De Jesus’ style, she had to challenge herself to absorb and adapt to the guidance and teachings national team head coach Shaq Delos Santos had to offer. 

Si coach Shaq naman, mas naka-focus sa job ng isang player,” Baron explains that Delos Santos has a more individualized approach centered on the specific roles of each player. She later credits the national team staff for facilitating her progress as an athlete, revealing, ”Sobrang may chinange sina coach Shaq sa blocking ko in terms of sa technical aspect. Nakita ko naman na sobrang tinutukan nila ako.”

(As for coach Shaq, he focuses more on the job of each player. Coach Shaq really changed and improved my blocking technique. I felt that they were really attentive when training me.)

Familiar territory

Coming back from her international showing, the middle blocker discloses her realization that the Philippine team is not far off from the level of other national teams. “In terms of skill, kaya natin makipagsabayan internationally,” she points out. The country placed third in the ASEAN Grand Prix and fell just shy of another podium finish in the SEA Games.

(In terms of skill, we can stay competitive with and match the pace of international opponents.)

Baron remains confident to don the national colors, expressing that her teammates served as an extra factor to boost her recent performance. Citing the likes of former La Salle and current F2 teammates Dawn Macandili and Aby Maraño, Baron discusses, “Parang ‘di rin ako nawala sa family ko. In a way, connected pa [rin] ‘yung support system; nandyan sila. Sabay-sabay kaming nasa court.” 

(It is as though I never left the family I found.  In a way, the support system is still connected with one another since they’re here. We’re still together on the court.)

Aside from taking her international experience as an avenue to further enhance her capabilities—which she can similarly apply when playing for F2—Baron is also on the lookout for acquiring knowledge she can bring back and share locally to foster the growth of the sport in the country.

For the former Lasallian, it doesn’t matter whether she plays for the national team or for any other team, as she still has that winning mindset instilled in her. “Same lang in terms of kapag nasa loob ako ng court. ‘Yung feeling na every point, may gigil, may beast sa inside—sa sarili mo,” she affirms.

(It’s the same to me as long as I’m inside the court. For every point, there is a feeling of intensity and desire to win—there is a beast inside, within oneself.)

Staying on track

After all the awards, it may seem that reaching this peak is the endgame. For Baron, however, it is not about the awards, but simply about playing the game that she loves. “‘Yang mga awards, reward lang ‘yan doon sa ginawa mo,” she says as she is reminded of the heart and soul she put into the sport. She continues by adding that the awards are also dedicated to the coaches and the team who had helped her come this far in her athletic career.

(The awards are just rewards corresponding to the amount of effort you exert.)

In her pursuit of volleyball, she has been presented with an even bigger opportunity to keep playing on larger stages as the world watches on. Although the privilege of representing the country requires plenty of hardwork and dedication, Baron confirms that her passion for the sport motivates her to get past these challenges, “Kapag gusto mo ‘yung isang bagay na ginagawa mo, ‘yung pagwo-work hard—madali na lang ‘yanmagkadugtong lagi.”  

(If you love what you do, working hard comes easily—these always go hand-in-hand.)

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