Ateneo begins title defense as UAAP volleyball opens
MANILA, Philippines – Eight months ago the Ateneo Lady Eagles completed a Cinderella run to their first UAAP volleyball championship. They begin a new journey on Saturday, November 22 to prove that none of it was a fluke.
The volleybelles from Katipunan overcame every possible hurdle to the title last season, climbing up the step ladder format, one rung at a time. They barreled past National University’s twice-to-beat advantage then did the seemingly improbable and thrice subdued defending 3-time champions De La Salle Lady Spikers to win it all.
A supposedly rebuilding team which lost its ‘Fab Five’ (Fille Cainglet, Gretchen Ho, Dzi Gervacio, A Nacachi and Jem Ferrer) played inspired last season and was propelled by their ‘heart strong’ mantra instilled by Thai coach Tai Bundit.
The Lady Eagles return this season no longer underdogs, but as contenders with a huge target on their backs on top of expectations and pressure.
Three rookies will make their debut for Ateneo – Bea de Leon (middle blocker), Maddie Madayag (middle blocker), and Therese Gaston (outside hitter). Reigning season MVP and last year’s Finals MVP Alyssa Valdez will be back for her fourth year while libero Denden Lazaro will be playing her final season. Amy Ahomiro and Michelle Morente flank Valdez along with steady setter Jia Morado.
Ateneo plays the NU Lady Bulldogs on Saturday, 4PM at the Mall of Asia Arena in a rematch of last year’s semifinals.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bulldogs find themselves missing major firepower with Dindin Santiago and Mina Aganon, who already used up their playing years. Spiker Aiko Urdas is also reportedly sidelined with an injury.
That leaves NU with Jaja Santiago, Myla Pablo and Ivy Perez to try and mimic the success of their basketball counterparts this year.
For the first game of the season, the UST Tigresses face a new-look UE Lady Red Warriors on Saturday at 2PM.
LIVE BLOG: UAAP 77 Volleyball opening day
Hungry to bring back its glory days, the Tigresses will have Pam Lastimosa, Jessey de Leon and Carmela Tunay spearheading UST’s attack. They hope to recover from a dismal 6th place finish last season and aim to arrest their two-year absence from the Final Four.
UE, on the other hand, is hungry for a win more than ever after losing all 14 outings for the second straight season. At the forefront of the team’s bid to turn its fortunes around is national team coach Francis Vicente, who replaced Boy Dalistan. He is rebuilding UE’s program from the ground up with half of the team composed of fresh new faces this year.
For day two of opening weekend, the Lady Spikers opens their bid for redemption against the Adamson Lady Falcons on Sunday, 4PM at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The Season 76 runners-up will be back with a vengeance hoping to reclaim the title. They won’t have fiery team captain Aby Marano anymore, who graduated last season, but Mika Reyes, Ara Galang and Kim Fajardo will be there to continue the fight.
Sorely missing the services of gunners Bang Pineda and Mayette Zapanta along with ace setter May Macatuno, the Lady Falcons will have their work cut out for them this season. They are made up mostly of young guns spliced with a few veterans and are looking to top their 4th place finish last year.
For Sunday’s first game at 2PM, the FEU Lady Tamaraws are set to lock horns with the UP Lady Maroons.
Princess Gaiser and last season’s Best Blocker Katherine Bersola will be reinforced by rookies Jewel Lai and Arielle Estranero as UP aims for a much better placing than last year’s 7th. They had just 3 wins in Season 76, which included an upset of FEU to wrap up their campaign.
Lastly, the Lady Tamaraws will try to get back at the Lady Maroons for that loss and, more importantly, make up for their narrow miss of the playoffs last season. They wound up with a 6-8 record at the end of eliminations and were booted out by Adamson.
This year, FEU is bringing in 4 rookies including 5-foot-10 Fil-Am middle hitter Jerrili Malabanan out of Sunny Hills High School in California. – Rappler.com