From Ball Girl to MVP: The journey of Kim Dy
MANILA, Philippines – The walk from the track field to the volleyball gym at De La Salle Zobel isn’t a long one, but under the burdensome and often-drenching Manila rainy weather, it can be quite the struggle.
Just 5 years ago, before her name would be included in the history books of UAAP volleyball, a ticked-off, tall and skinny Grade 6 student named Kianna Dy was upset that her first track and field competition was cancelled due to the weather.
The second of 7 children, “Kim” was at that time looking for extra-curricular athletic activities to attract her interest outside of the classroom. The cancellation of her first track competition left her “bored,” so she flirted with the idea of getting into other sports. Basketball was one of them as well.
Years later of searching and still unsure of what she wanted, Dy found herself back in front of the gym she had passed on that now-significant day where Zobel’s girls volleyball team, which was already being handled by the legendary Ramil De Jesus, was training.
“I was invited by my friend to play volleyball,” Dy shared with Rappler after a Lady Spikers tune-up game near La Salle’s Taft campus on a similar rainy afternoon in January. “I said, ‘Track and field nalang.’ Eventually I was just walking in front of the vollyeball gym and was invited to play. I tried it out.
“At first, it was difficult. I was tall and skinny, so I had a hard time. It was a bit awkward. Eventually, I started liking it.”
The road to those last 5 words proved to be difficult. There were obstacles along the way, plus the criticism of others did not make it easy even if they were necessary.
But what Dy had to endure before eventually becoming a UAAP high school MVP and 3-time juniors champion was just a mini preview of the hurdles she would ultimately have to overcome again on the road to collegiate stardom.
'I just wanted to prove something'
“I don’t lose anything if I try,” Dy remembered telling herself before making the plunge to volleyball. Her freshman season in high school was a forgettable one. She played out of position and barely made a significant impact on the court. At home, her two playful brothers would tease her “Ball girl ka lang!” It was meant to be a joke, but the chip was placed on her shoulder nonetheless. “I just wanted to prove something,” said Dy.
If her first year was meant for reflection on whether or not to take the game seriously, her second season in Zobel was much different. The departure of a teammate allowed Dy to play a role she was meant for: middle spiker. That opportunity led to a spot in the team’s first 6, and the pathway to where she’s gotten now.
“It was in my second year when I realized I loved volleyball,” said Dy. That discovery, even if she didn’t know it at that time, would once again play an important role in her future and quite possibly changed her life.
She grew even more in her height, and her natural athletic abilities translated to dominance on the court once mixed with the mastering of the fundamentals. From being what in her own words was a “Kulelat,” Dy transformed into the best player in the UAAP junior ranks and was one the patriarchs of a dominant 3-year championship run for Zobel.
Fast-forward to the last day of April 2016, and an older Dy was seen celebrating inside the historic Araneta Coliseum. With Finals MVP trophy in one hand, tears falling from her eyes, and confetti raining down from the rafters, the girl who was once teased as only a ball girl had put La Salle back at the mountain top while ending the Alyssa Valdez Era in Ateneo in heartbreak.
Kianna Dy is the next face of De La Salle volleyball, the next product in the tradition of great Lady Spikers. Her story? It’s about resiliency.
‘Choose the school you think is best for you’
As Dy’s talents on the volleyball court continued to progress throughout high school, so did the process of determining her future. Ateneo and UP, two volleyball programs which have been on the rise these past few years, weren’t shy about their interest, but De La Salle immediately had the upper hand for a few reasons.
Dy had been a Lasallian since kindergarten, her blood was essentially green; and it was De Jesus, the now 9-time champion coach of the Lady Spikers, who helped hone her game. “I wouldn’t have gotten to where I was if it wasn’t for him, so I wanted to play for him again,” Dy explained.
“From the beginning, I was already surprised there were other schools who came with offers,” she admitted. “But eventually, I ended up in La Salle because the course I wanted is here - Business Management - and their business degree here is nice.”
It also didn’t hurt that Dy’s best friend and closest teammate in high school, libero Dawn Macandili, was likewise set to go to La Salle, although it was Dy’s major which really attracted her commitment. The eldest daughter of the family, Dy grew up under the parentage of a dermatologist mother and entrepreneur father who continue to inspire La Salle’s incoming senior in areas she wants to excel away from the sport.
“Choose the school you think is best for you,” were the words her parents gave her as she made a decision she knew would alter her life. She decided she wanted to remain wearing green and white.
It was an exciting feeling, she recalled about officially becoming a Lady Spiker, even if it meant coming to terms with having to bid her time until getting the opportunity to shine again like she did in high school. But what Dy did not know at that moment was that the challenges she was about to face would test her in ways she could not expect: her patience, mental fortitude, and love for the game.
“I knew that La Salle’s bench was deep so I wasn’t going to get playing time right away. I put that into consideration when I chose the school. So it was okay with me,” she said.
It did not help that from playing and excelling at middle spiker the past 3 years, Dy was given the open spiker role as a freshman next to more-established middle hitters like an MVP in Abigail Maraño and Mika Reyes. “Bangko ako,” was all she could say about her first season which ended in disappointment as an undefeated 14-0 elimination round for La Salle went to waste when they fell to Valdez and the Lady Eagles in the finals.
While the DLSU volleyball program focused on how to reclaim its spot and dethrone Ateneo, Dy’s collegiate career started to feel like a roller-coaster come her sophomore season. She was moved back to middle spiker and was part of De Jesus’s first 6 in the first round of the UAAP tournament, but was benched in the final half of the eliminations and Final Four. Ateneo beat a La Salle squad that was without Ara Galang (torn ACL, MCL) in the finals, resulting to dismay for a second straight year for the Lady Spikers.
It was even more of a struggle for Dy, as the doubts started to creep in. Was she good enough to fare against the tougher competition in college? Did she take on too much for her to handle?
Or just maybe, the sport wasn’t meant for her after all.
Despite the questions, it looked as if Dy’s UAAP career was starting to turn for the better before her junior season. In pre-season games and training sessions, the former high school sensation was being used as part of the Lady Spikers’ starting line-up once again. Dy also became more comfortable with the system even if she was being utilized as a utility spiker. La Salle was retaining Reyes, Galang, and Kim Fajardo. Add that to the development of Dy and the younger players like Macandili and Mary Joy Baron, and DLSU was expected to provide a better challenge for Ateneo’s crown.
But just weeks before Season 78’s opening, Dy hit what was arguably the lowest point of her career. During the Christmas season of 2015, she and her family took a trip to Osaka, Japan, during which La Salle continued to hold practice sessions.
Dy asked for permission to travel from De Jesus, but the latter was clearly not pleased with her request. Upon her return, the head coach gave his player the silent treatment and decided to take her out of the starting unit.
That also affected her performance on the court, leading to little to no playing time come the UAAP tournament. “I just started thinking, why is my game like this? Dy questioned herself. “Why is it so bad? At times, I was brought to tears. There was a point I almost wanted to quit.”
How much so?
“99.9 percent,” she revealed.
Dy watched from the sidelines as her teammates thrived in the opening weeks of the season. The high school MVP had become a benchwarmer. Tearing up after games became a normal routine, and she was inconsolable during team dinners, even if veterans like Cyd Demecillo tried their best. “Your time will come,” the graduating player comforted her on one occasion, but to no avail.
For the first time, Dy contemplated leaving the game. She consulted with her guidance counsellor and then her parents, who said they’d pay for her tuition fee if her athletic scholarship was given up so she could continue pursuing the business major she strived for.
Dy started to picture it for the first time: not having to wake up for 6 am jogging sessions. Not having to train from 9 am until 12 noon before heading to classes. Not having to train once again at 6 pm while her friends and classmates hung out or went home. Not having to go back to La Salle and train with an unhappy De Jesus on weekends following UAAP games they lost. “'Wag niyo tanggalin mga sapatos niyo (Don't take off your shoes),” he would tell them.
But two things stopped her. Back on talking terms, De Jesus noticed Dy’s despondent attitude following a game in the first round and comforted her with 4 words, “Wag ka mag alala.”
“He had the right timing in mind for when to use me,” she said about their talk which changed everything.
And more importantly? “I stayed because I love the sport. It will always be an almost-quit, but I can’t let it go.”
De Jesus’ words eventually rang true. La Salle’s first-round matchup against Ateneo last season had a lot at stake. The Lady Spikers entered having lost their last 6 games against their rivals. The Lady Eagles had clearly gained the upper hand, and if DLSU had any desire of reclaiming its title, the team knew drawing first blood against the defending champions last season was necessary.
It was imperative to get the proverbial monkey off their backs,.
“Gigil na gigil kami,” Dy recalled. “Of course, they got the championship from us twice in a row. We were more confident because Ara was with us. We were complete. We knew we were a strong team. It was also motivation that they beat us. We just played. We had a different aura entering that game.”
That desire for victory translated on the court. La Salle dominated Ateneo in 3 sets, out-playing them in attacks, blocks, and services. After riding the bench for weeks, De Jesus finally used Dy in a significant role and she made an impact, thus leading to earning her spot back in the rotation. He stayed with his promise, and she made sure not to let him down a second time.
Mentally, the victory was vital for La Salle, especially with the manner with how they claimed it. Valdez and the Eagles entered the contest undefeated at 6-0 and with a feeling of invincibility surrounding the team. DLSU put a crack on the Lady Eagles’ armor, and with that the strengthening of belief that they could take back the title they believed was rightfully theirs.
A glaring weakness
After defeating Ateneo, the talks started to surface. Was La Salle, and not the actual defending champion of the league, the favorite to win that season’s championship? It didn’t help that the Lady Eagles were stumbling, following their disappointing loss to the Lady Spikers with a similar defeat at the hands of UP.
The favorite tag was DLSU’s for the taking. But if Ateneo’s loss to UP was bad, La Salle’s next performance - a 3-set collapse against an inferior team in UST which ended up not making the Final Four - was even worse.
Maybe not as much surprising however, given that earlier in the season, La Salle suffered a similar fate against NU - another team that eventually missed the playoffs. The Lady Spikers were starting to form bad habits: overconfidence was an issue, resulting in below-standard play against teams taken for granted and the blowing of leads.
It was on display again as the Final Four rolled around the corner. La Salle elevated their play further in the second round, but Ateneo struck back at its rival during their final elimination round game to gain the top seed and enter the playoffs with momentum. While the Lady Eagles faced the Lady Maroons for a ticket to the finals, DLSU had to get by a better-than-expected FEU.
For a while, it seemed like it was going to be a cakewalk. La Salle went ahead two sets to none in their first matchup, but then allowed the Lady Tamaraws to crawl back and win the next 3 sets to force a do-or-die encounter.
“He was pissed,” was immediately what Dy recalled from De Jesus inside the locker room at the Mall of Asia Arena in the aftermath of the contest. “He asked us in Tagalog, we won the first two sets but we were just going to give the game away?
“We were more motivated when we were defeated by a team,” Dy continued. “Let’s say like when UST beat us [in the first round], we got back at them in the second round. And the same with NU.”
It seemed as if the Lady Spikers were so focused on the ultimate goal that at times they forgot how integral winning the short-term battles were.
“That was our team’s weakness - we win the first two sets, we become overconfident, we end up losing.” The game against FEU wasn’t the last time the theme would make an appearance.
DLSU won the knockout match, setting a fifth consecutive date in the championship round against Ateneo. This one felt immediately different leading up to the first game. Galang was back, playing in her last finals along with Reyes and Valdez. Both teams split their elimination series. There were thoughts and analysis in many media mediums, but it was hard to be totally secure with a prediction.
This much was sure, though: it felt like a battle for the ages was on horizon.
The atmosphere around the Lady Spikers entering the first game of the series was different, Dy admits. Normal practices were heated enough, but the days leading up to the finals were something else.
“I felt really focused in training,” said the then third-year standout, whose concentration would reward her in many ways. “Every single detail of our opponent, we studied. Every single detail, I wanted to know.”
During their re-education of the Lady Eagles, Dy noticed how she became more of a spectator in blocking sequences while Valdez would find seams to attack in La Salle’s defense. It was something that had hurt La Salle many times in the past, so she suggested to De Jesus that she take more of a blocking role in defending the league’s 3-time MVP.
“We were so focused on winning. We all wanted to contribute something,” she said.
La Salle opened the championship series down 1-7, but needless to say did not lose faith. They rallied to win the first set by 3, and then rallied from a 21-18 margin again in the second set to win 25-22. The Lady Spikers then controlled the third set to sweep Game 1, shocking spectators over the country. Dy led La Salle with 15 points while helping limit Valdez to 17, giving her team all the momentum while sending Ateneo near the end of their reign.
In Game 2, it looked as if La Salle had secured the crown after going up two sets to none in dominant fashion. The MOA Arena was rocking, with chants of “Go La Salle” echoing around its 4 walls. While the crowd in green anticipated a celebration waiting to happen, those in blue looked defeated.
And then just like that, Alyssa Valdez happened. As if fate had planned it all along, the athlete who will go down as arguably the greatest UAAP women’s volleyball player ever saved her best performance for her last victory. Once again, La Salle had blown another lead. From being a set away to reclaiming lost glory, DLSU was suddenly looking at a third and decisive matchup with its rival having new-found confidence. The bad habits the Lady Spikers built before the playoffs had come back to haunt them at the most inopportune time.
“We got overconfident. We waited for them to make errors instead of looking to score,” Dy said of the collapse.
The questions of whether or not Dy and company could defeat Ateneo started to arise again over the next few days, and it didn’t help that the defending champions opened the knockout game on fire, with Valdez taking control and handing her team a one set lead. It felt like a reversal of fortunes, with the Lasallian side suddenly staring at the prospect of defeat while the Ateneans could feel another title in the making.
“No. We really did not,” was Dy’s response when asked if her team, at that given moment, started to have the doubts creep back in. “We were supposed to go like, ‘We lost again.’ But that wasn’t the case. It was different. We knew we could do it. We knew we were going to win.”
That’s exactly how the script unfolded. The next 3 sets looked like the first game of the series, as a stronger and more disciplined La Salle attacked Ateneo’s receiving with different weapons and limited both Valdez and her supporting crew with unyielding defense. By the fourth set, it was all DLSU, whose players began dancing to every point and embodied what was supposed to be Tai Bundit’s “Happy” and “Heartstrong” mentality for Ateneo. The game wasn’t over yet, but halfway through the final set, it was clear the battle was over. La Salle had won the war.
Dy finished with 17 points and was named the Finals MVP. While Valdez walked around the playing court and saluted the Ateneo crowd for her final UAAP act, the one who was once teased as only a “ball girl” basked in the glory of her team’s triumph. To some degree, it felt like the passing of a torch.
In that very moment, everything was validated for Dy: the decision to try out volleyball, to go to La Salle, to make all the sacrifices for training sessions, to trust the process when she wanted to quit.
All for that one moment.
“Actually, it feels like a dream,” she said, clearly still unable to grasp what transpired almost a year back, but still feels like just yesterday. “I couldn’t expect this to happen to me. Of course, I’m happy. Thankful as well. I don’t know. For me, it still hasn’t sunk in.”
It actually has, talking about Kim Dy the champion.
How about Kim Dy, the superstar? Maybe not yet for her. Even if that’s already the case.
The reluctant superstar
Dy had just finished a chocolate chip cookie, which felt like it wasn’t enough recovery after playing a practice game against Perpetual Help’s men’s volleyball team. When she wasn’t checking on her phone to confirm if her Friday evening would be spent in another practice session as the UAAP season drew closer, she playfully tore the tissue which came with her plate then started twirling it around, just to be doing something. It might as well be called the athlete’s twitch.
She laughs when thinking about how much has changed over the past months. When she gets messages for interview requests, she still innocently asks, “Why me?” When she goes to the mall and notices people staring at her while mouthing the words “Si Kim Dy ‘yan!”, she’s unsure of how to react. “It’s surprising,” she admitted.
But with the new-found fame comes the awareness that people adore her mostly for her volleyball prowess, not the person she is. It’s easy to know Kim Dy, the La Salle athlete. Type her name on Google, and countless of links will pop up. But how does she like to unwind? What does she do when training sessions are over and she’s crossed off academic-related objects on her to-do list?
“I like to read books when I’m bored,” she says, opening a window to a side not many know. Dy enjoys love stories, so many Nicholas Sparks novels are on her shelf. When she’s done being a cheeseball, she shifts to more motivational works - “How You Can Get Rich Quicker!” is one of her go-tos.
When she isn’t updating about her life on Snapchat or Instagram, the tracker app on her iPhone sends reminders about the latest episodes of her usual TV series: Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Orange is the New Black, and more. When she’s done catching up, she’ll go to YouTube and study tutorials on how to play the piano. It’s not a career she dreams of having one day, but completing a challenge on the musical instrument gives her satisfaction. “I just like accomplishing stuff,” she said.
When she watches her dad excel in the food industry, it makes Dy think of having her own mark in the same field. “No particular kind of food [as of now], but food,” she laughed. Aside from that, she also wants to become a model, especially after idolizing Kendall Jenner as of late. “I watch that also!” she excitingly said when asked about Keeping Up with the Kardashians. She’s already done gigs for megastyle.ph, Crocs, Keds, and recently, Gatorade was added to that list.
Inside her bag is a planner. Some people have one for style. Others have one to try and be organized. Some just want to show off their Starbucks stickers. For someone like Dy who values organization, it may as well be a lifeline.
“I like planning everything ahead,” she said. Weekend plans are often made on Saturday afternoons. Hers are set days before that. What’s written down is color coded as well. Orange is for school, light blue is for personal things, green is for volleyball, and pink is for birthdays. When something goes haywire on her schedule, she panics.
It also helps keep the very grade-conscious student version of herself keep her marks up.
She doesn’t cry easily, except when someone else starts to cry, or unless it’s something close to her heart. When incoming La Salle captain Kim Fajardo was still undecided on returning for her fifth and final playing season, Dy composed songs to convince the setter to stay, even singing them on national television. When Fajardo made her decision, she decided to play around with Dy, telling her initially that she would be leaving.
“On that day, she told me, ‘I’m not playing anymore,’” Dy recounted. “She went like that. I started to cry. And then she said, ‘Joke lang!’”
“Ugh,” was all Dy could do in response, but still unable to mask her happiness because more than a leader, a friend of hers was returning to the Lady Spikers.
And genuine friendship is of utmost importance to La Salle’s new big girl in campus. Her pals get upset when her busy schedule doesn’t permit her to see them, but whenever she meets friends like Bea, Ina, Trisha, Rio, Gianna, or Megan, it’s always a blast. More importantly? It’s as if nothing’s changed. It keeps her grounded.
“Now, you really to know who your true friends are compared to those who are just using you,” said Dy. “You know anyway who’s been there for you ever since, so I think it’s good to keep them.”
That mentality right there is what makes many La Salle fans confident in the girl who will help headline the next era of DLSU volleyball. Dy is a superstar alright, but a reluctant one. Not because she fears the challenges or expectations, but because every time she gets on the volleyball court, she plays her heart out for the love of the game, not for fame and glory. In some ways, she’s still the tall and skinny grade school girl outside Zobel’s volleyball gym years ago who said “why not?”
Tony Robbins once wrote, “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” Who knows what Kim Dy’s destiny would have been had it not rained that day of her first track and field competition? What if her friend never suggested for her to try out volleyball? What if she did not go against the 99.9% odds, and decided to quit the game?
Well, that’s a conversation for another lifetime.
“It just feels like a dream to me,” Dy again said about everything that’s happened. “Like one day, I’m just going to wake up.” – Rappler.com
Writer’s note: Some quotes were translated from Tagalog to English.