Get to know Pia Ildefonso, the volleyball star who is determined to win on and off the court
This is an excerpt from MEGA’s November 2023 Fitness feature.
In the sports world, the name Ildefonso has long been synonymous with greatness, echoing basketball pros, Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) legend Danny Ildefonso and his sons, rising stars Shaun and Dave Ildefonso. Yet, today, a new Ildefonso is seizing the spotlight—not on the hardwood, but on the volleyball court. Meet Sofia “Pia” Ildefonso, the 21-year-old volleyball sensation whose journey to the top is marked by courage, resilience, and fierce commitment to her principles.
THE BATTLE THAT SHAPED HER
When I met Pia, she cut an impressive figure in her white bodysuit, faded denim jeans, and Birkenstock clogs. Standing at 5’9”, her eyes sparkled with an infectious cheerfulness that mirrored her true nature—an eternal optimist, which she says she owes to her triumphant battle against cancer.
In the darkest moments of her young life, Pia faced a nemesis more formidable than any opponent on the court—a malignant tumor known as embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. It was a battle that would test her spirit, her will, and her very existence.
But she emerged victorious, not just as a survivor but as a warrior who believed she could face any challenge life threw her way. “I was six at that time, and I didn’t really understand how grave that situation was and what kind of battle I was going to face,” Pia reflects. “I remember being at the hospital, puro needles, puro sakit.”
This early battle forever altered Pia’s perspective on health and life: “That whole experience made me and my family more active in sports and made us health-conscious,” she says. “Battling cancer and winning against it made me see life in a different light—now, whenever challenges and hardships come into my life, I’m no longer afraid to face them.”
During those challenging times, sports became her escape, her sanctuary from the corridors of the hospital. “Naka-help ’yon sa recovery ko kasi kahit may treatments na ongoing, my mind was off of it,” Pia recalls. “Siyempre, that time, bilang bata ako, ayoko na pumunta ng hospital kasi alam ko tuturukan na naman ako ng kung anu-anong gamot, so training really became my happy place.”
RISING THROUGH THE RANKS
Pia’s early sporting journey saw her fall in love with swimming, followed by a deep passion for triathlon. However, it was during the seventh grade that volleyball captured her heart.
The transition was seamless, and she soon found herself donning the jersey of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 84. It was a dream come true, and Pia was ready to conquer the volleyball court.
Yet, just a year after her debut, Pia made a decision that raised eyebrows across the sporting world. She chose to forgo UAAP Season 85 and leaped into the professional ranks with the Farm Fresh Foxies. This bold move was fueled by more than just the desire to excel in her sport—it was driven by her commitment to justice.
It all traces back to 2022, when Pia took to Instagram to condemn the alleged sexual misconduct of an unnamed student-athlete. She shared a Rappler article titled “When abusers win championships for their schools, who loses?”
The article highlighted 15 different allegations and evidence of sexual and gender-based violence that made rounds on Twitter in 2020, implicating a former Blue Eaglet (Ateneo Junior Basketball team) player.
Pia’s Instagram post (published in October 2022) didn’t mince words (written as is): “It’s never right to cheat on your partner. It’s never right to manipulate and gaslight your partner. It’s never right to take advantage of women, especially when they’re in a vulnerable state.”
She added, “Lastly, it’s never right to spread and leak any personal content of your friends without their consent.”
While Pia never explicitly named the player in her posts, she confirms to MEGA that it was Forthsky Padrigao.
In June 2023, Padrigao left Ateneo after being declared ineligible to play for the upcoming season due to academic troubles. In an Instagram post, he announced his departure from Ateneo and apologized for the “mistakes” he made that had “caused pain to others.”
The player may no longer represent Ateneo, but Pia could no longer bring herself to represent a school, which she says, had shown inaction on the issue.
“Parang ayoko na maging involved kasi hindi na siya nagiging fulfilling for me,” she confides. “Training would be mentally draining for me kasi paulit-ulit kong iniisip kung tama pa ba na nandoon ako, kasi at that time, nandoon pa siya. I can’t represent a school that didn’t fight for me.”
She says, “With Farm Fresh Foxies, it’s a fresh start for me—a fresh environment. And what I really appreciate is the warm welcome. They accepted me with no judgment.”
Read more about Pia Ildefonso’s battles on and off the court in MEGA’s November 2023 issue, now available on Readly, Magzter, Press Reader, and Zinio.
Photography KIERAN PUNAY
Creative Direction BRIE VENTURA
Art Direction GJ FAJILAN
Fashion Direction KAT CRUZ-VILLANUEVA
Beauty Direction MIA CASTRO
Styling MIK TABIMINA, assisted by LYNUS SANTOS
Makeup JR CONSTANTINO
Hair JEY FLORES
Producer LAURD SALEN
Sittings Editor BAM ABELLON