Bella Belen praises Angel Canino after grueling UAAP Finals battle: ‘She deserves all her awards’
MANILA, Philippines — A year ago Bella Belen made history as the first-ever women’s volleyball player to win the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, leading National University to a perfect Season 84 for the Lady Bulldogs’ first title in 65 years.
When she capped her masterful season with a series sweep of La Salle on June 21 last year, Belen promised she won’t stop working hard knowing “every day there are better people than us who are born.”
And then La Salle’s prized recruit Angel Canino arrived this UAAP Season 85, becoming the second rookie MVP and bringing back the glory to the Lady Spikers after a five-year title drought.
The La Salle-Zobel standout has been a thorn in the side of NU, which was dethroned by Lady Spikers dethroned by winning all their four matches this season, including two consecutive come-from-behind five-set wins in the Finals.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Belen and the Lady Bulldogs, who surrendered their down after the a 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-10 loss in Game 2 in front of 20,514 fans at Mall of Asia Arena.
But the NU star remained gracious in defeat and expressed her respect to Canino as the rightful MVP this year, despite all the storylines pitting them against each other in a heated rivalry.
The league’s two rookie MVPs event shared a moment at center court after the game.
“She deserves the award. She showed that she really worked hard for this season from defense to offense. Her passion is there,” said Belen, who was limited to 11 points in Game 2. “I’m very proud of her because we’ve been together before. I know she’s really hard working that’s why she earned her awards.”
Canino, who also ended Belen and Nazareth School’s dynasty in UAAP girls’ volleyball back in 2018, comforted her rival after the game and lauded their run despite settling for silver.
“She congratulated me and I told her she did her best all throughout the season. I also said that she really played well and they made it harder for us since they are one of the strongest teams this UAAP. I admire them,” said the 19-year-old La Salle rookie in Filipino.
In Game 1, Canino and Belen traded staredowns after every hard-hitting kill before the Lady Spikers got the last laugh with a comeback win to draw the first blood.
But 20-year-old Lady Bulldog also echoed Canino’s sentiment, insisting it was just all part of the game.
“I think some of the fans are just making an issue because, in Game 1, it was all part of the game. They are assuming that we are quarreling. Outside the game, we’re all friends,” Belen said in Filipino.
Belen praised the determination of the Lady Spikers to regain the title but she remained proud of their run despite losing the crown.
“Hands down to La Salle. We saw that they really wanted the game because we were up by two sets but they fought back. They really wanted to end the [series],” Belen said. “I’m proud of my teammates because we fought until the end. We didn’t just give up. There is a lot of room for improvement.”