BANGKOK, Thailand, September 9, 2020 – For more than five years, Jia Morado has been at the helm of the Philippine women’s national team’s offence. As surprising as her plays are, every single chance to don the blue and red remains an extraordinary experience for the 25-year-old setter.
“To be able to do something you love, all while wearing the flag and representing the country, is surreal. Getting the chance to play against other countries – to learn from them and show them what we can do – is a privilege that is not given to many so we carry the flag with pride and do everything we can to make the most out of the opportunity.
“Each tournament we join, each team we face, there is always something to learn out of the experience and it all contributed to who I am as an athlete today,” Morado said.
The start of her journey was not as magical as her sets, as she injured her knee in her final high school year, casting doubt on her young volleyball career.
“Others were worried that I’d be traumatized from the injury and choose not to play again. Volleyball was that important to me that I had no doubt I’d be able to recover and make it back stronger.”
On her road to recovery, Morado indeed had everything but doubt in her mind.
“It wasn’t easy getting back into playing form but my family, coaches and teammates stood by me and reminded me to take it one training at a time. It’s absolutely true that if you choose to focus on the process, the results will follow. At the end of the day, my love and commitment for the sport brought me back,” the playmaker said.
Gaining her groove back, Morado turned doubt into dominance. In the midst of an illustrious collegiate career, Morado led the Philippine team that bagged back-to-back bronze medals at the ASEAN University Games in 2014 and 2016 – her first international medals.
Morado was also tapped to be the Philippines’ sole setter at the first Asian Women’s U23 Volleyball Championship in 2015, finishing seventh overall. She was also a part of her country’s return to the Asian Games in 2018 and their debut at the AVC Cup for Women in the same year. Just a year later, Morado added two more bronze medals to her collection at the first and second leg of the ASEAN Grand Prix.
But just like her journey from her injury, Morado knows there is no room for giving up on that elusive gold medal.
“Being a member of the national team is a huge challenge by itself. Playing for the country means expectations are extremely high, and in order for us to be able to focus on our goals, we had to be physically, mentally, and emotionally resilient at all times. We’re expected to learn how to quickly adapt to each other in the team, and we also had to face stronger teams that have way more experience in terms of playing together.
“We showed signs of improvement after some games and tournaments, but we were certain we had a long way to go. Recently we were able to bring home a couple of medals, and that was fulfilling. But we knew we could reach better and higher goals with proper plans, proper preparations, and proper support,” Morado said.
With the right mix of experience and youth up her sleeve, she now serves as the mediator for the younger players and the veterans. Years of competing and missing the chance for gold did not hurt her – it only made her hungrier for victory.
In order to do that, she knows everything has to start from the ground. While her team is loaded with talent, she believes it would be a totally different story if the right foundation is set for Philippine volleyball.
“It’s fulfilling to be able to bring home a medal or two, but even more fulfilling to be able to lay a good foundation for Philippine volleyball as a whole for the generations to come. If we’re able to plant that seed today by investing in grassroots and laying down a long-term program to give athletes the right support, then the level of Philippine volleyball would increase significantly.
“I dream that one day we’ll be able to face and win against volleyball giants in Southeast Asia and eventually improve our world ranking. However, a lot has to change for us to reach that. Gathering the best players in the country is one thing, but long-term plans and preparations are extremely essential in facing adversity as a team, especially if we want to achieve higher goals for the country.”
Despite the pressure, Morado still sees the pleasure in competing with some of the world’s best, especially against legendary Thai setter Nootsara Tomkom.
For Morado, the chance to represent her country in the international stage is one thing but playing with her hero on the other side of the net is a different story she will always remember. From the television screen to the Taraflex court, the learning never stops even if it means putting up a fight against one of world’s best setters
“I spent a good deal of my days (even until now) watching her games, analyzing her best plays and grabbing whatever I can apply to myself to level up my game. When I joined the national team, I finally got the chance to watch her play live in the tournaments we both participated in. Finally, the time came when I was able to play against her, the first time was in Indonesia during the Asian Games and the other time was in the Philippines during the SEA Games.
“It’s funny because I expected to feel nervous, but I wasn’t. My mind and body felt so challenged to think of plays to counter hers. Winning against a team as experienced as theirs was a long shot, so expectedly we fell short. However, I’m certain that more than through videos or watching her from the outside, I learned the most from her while playing against her,” Morado recounted.
We‘re happy to share that all of our PPE supplies are now in transit! Big thanks to Rebisco for helping us with our deliveries, our amazing ELTC team behind the initiative, & everyone whose generosity & support made this possible #ForOurFrontlinersPH! 😊#EveryLittleThingCounts pic.twitter.com/MGCQPkOZYv
— Julia Morado (@juliacmorado) April 25, 2020
With all tournaments getting suspended due to the pandemic, Morado still found a way to do something good. Her beau Miguel told her it was time to give back to the volleyball community. While she is locked away from the gym, the two launched Every Little Thing Counts to support impacted medical front liners and volleyball workers.
Through this project, she rounded up the Philippine volleyball community by putting numerous players’ jerseys up for auction with proceeds going straight to Filipino health workers battling COVID-19, as well as families gravely affected by the pandemic.
Gathering more than a million pesos, boxes of donations in kind and countless support from Filipino volleyball players and fans, Every Little Thing Counts showcased the power of sport to change lives even in the most trying times.
“When the lockdown began, it was quite frustrating because we wanted to find ways to help the country’s situation, but we could only do so from our homes due to protocols. We knew that we weren’t the only ones who felt the same. There were others also who either didn’t know how to help or wanted to help but felt their contribution would be too little and insignificant.
“In the first phase, we raised enough to supply personal protective equipment for 14 hospitals. For the second phase, we wanted to raise money to help vulnerable families of daily wage workers who are now without source of income because of the pandemic. Of course, this also included our beloved volleyball court officials and event marshals that played extremely valuable roles in our games and are important members of the volleyball community.”
Morado said Every Little Thing Counts proves acing her service to the volleyball community is possible even outside the court.
“Without the support of the people who shared the same love and passion for volleyball, this initiative wouldn’t be a success. Time and time again, it has been proven that volleyball will always have a significant impact in sparking hope for people, even in crisis such as this,” the playmaker said.
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Yesterday was different. I felt so alive playing against you. I’ve never felt my mind and body so challenged to think of plays to counter yours. We fell short but one thing’s for sure: more than through videos or seeing you play from the outside, I learn the most when I’m playing on opposite sides of the net, on the same court as you. Thank you, @nootsara13, for inspiring athletes like me to learn and appreciate the game of volleyball even more.
Volleyball fans in and out of the Philippines have been looking up to Morado and her magic for years. But even when the stakes are high and the pressure is huge, she knows it is looking at the little things and going back to basics that make a person great.
“The best athletes in the world are where they are because of the basics. Even when they’re already at the top of their game, they still give time for the basics because one can rely on it especially in the most crucial moments. So the next time you think about skipping steps, just remember that there are no shortcuts to greatness.
“Your volleyball journey is not going to be easy, but with anything you experience in life, it’s easier to power through it if you know your purpose – your WHY.”
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