By Anthony Divinagracia and Ivan de Lara
Manila, Philippines – In the 1980’s, Lydia de Vega brought pride and honor to the country when she won gold medals in the track and field events of the New Delhi and Seoul Asian Games. These feats earned her the title as Asia’s Sprint Queen. Two decades later, Lydia’s daughter, Stephanie Mecardo, has steadily inched her way closer to becoming volleyball royalty.
Gifted with athletic genes, Stephanie started to play tennis, badminton, and swimming at a very young age. She, however candidly admitted that, unlike her mom, she never wanted to get into athletics.
Stephanie was already in high school when she realized her love for volleyball.
“Nu’ng una, laru-laro lang sa labas ng bahay with friends, until I got in the varsity team of St. Bridget’s School in Quezon City,” said Stephanie of her volleyball initiation.
Years later, she would become a member of the Philippine Youth Team. While donning the national colors, Stephanie got the attention of De La Salle University Lady Spikers coach Ramil de Jesus, who immediately talked to Lydia and Stephanie to convince her to play for La Salle in college.
“I was recruited by other teams, but I chose La Salle because I liked the school,” Stephanie said.
With the likes of Desiree Hernandez, Carissa Gotis, Maureen Penetrante, Carla Llaguno, Chi Saet and Manilla Santos already comprising La Salle’s starting lineup, Stephanie was relegated as a bench player on her first year. But a talent like Stephanie’s would never go unnoticed.
As some of the starters graduated, Stephanie got her own playing time and eventually became one of the team’s more dependable hitters. On her third playing year, she joined Santos, Jacqueline Alarca, Michelle Datuin, Charleen Cruz, Kaye Martinez, Celine Hernandez and Melissa Gohing in towing La Salle to its fourth UAAP title this decade as they ruled the Season 71 Women’s Volleyball finals.
Bigger shoes to fill
This season, Stephanie steps on bigger shoes. Aside from being La Salle’s team captain, she is also the squad’s top offensive option. In the first round, she amassed 99 points—good enough to make her the league’s sixth best scorer.
“Stephanie is a good leader,” de Jesus said. “She is one of the team’s go-to girls.”
Her superb performance is reflective of the team’s unblemished record so far. Down by a set against the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons last January 30, Stephanie came through with 23 points to pace her teammates and win the game.
A fourth year Interdisciplinary Business Studies student, Stephanie, admits that her responsibilities as a student-athlete are far more challenging than people think it is.
“Balancing volleyball and studies is difficult, especially when the professors do not understand our schedule,” Stephanie said. “It takes a lot of sacrifice to do both.”
Nevertheless, she says that she still has a social life and likes spending time with her teammates. She is particularly closest to her batch mates Alarca, Cruz, Martinez, and Regine Diego. She reveals that her team’s close knit is the secret why they are performing well.
“We have better teamwork and more determination,” Stephanie said.
No longer under her mom’s shadow
With one more playing year left after this season, Stephanie is set to wreck more havoc in the league, or in any volleyball meet, as she is quite hesitant to accept a stint in the Philippine Team.
“Volleyball is only for college,” Stephanie said. “Once I graduate, I will start working and take my Master’s degree. But if I get a good offer to play for the National Team, I might consider it.”
Given her and her team’s achievements, it is easy to conclude that more people are taking notice of Stephanie. She is no longer just Lydia de Vega’s daughter. She has become her own person.
“I am very happy because I have made a name for myself,” Stephanie said.