This appears on philstar.com
Quo vadis, Ateneo?
by rick olivares
On his way to the taraflex court last Monday, August 1, to take in the College of Saint Benilde-Far Eastern University match, a question was posed to Ateneo Lady Eagles head coach Anusorn Bundit, “Where are you going, coach?”
“To work,” he grinned in his unmistakable Thai accent. “To a championship.”
After the young and restless Lady Eagles lost a five-setter (26-24, 14-25, 25-21, 18-25, 15-12) to the Technological Institute of the Philippines Lady Engineers, you can say that path to a volleyball crown isn’t going to be easy.
That is expected considering who they have lost and how teams like FEU, National University, University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, not to mention defending champions La Salle are still locked and loaded.
You cannot fault one for wondering if Ateneo’s Golden Age of volleyball is over. The women’s team are coming off a string of five consecutive UAAP finals finishes with two titles to show. In the Shakey’s V-League, they also have two of four trophies ensconced in the home confines in Loyola Heights. The male of the species also has two Men’s championships in the UAAP and most recently took a Spiker’s Turf trophy. They do not look to be done as well. After all, the amazing duo of open hitter Marck Espejo and setter Ish Polvorosa have two more years to play.
Change is the natural order of things. Although change is frightening, it happens. Sometimes, it happens quickly while on other occasions, it’s a slow burn.
This isn’t the first time that the Ateneo Lady Eagles are losing their top players by the bunch.
In 2007, then UAAP Women’s Volleyball Most Valuable Player candidate Charo Soriano, team captain Karla Bello, and open spiker Patty Taganas graduated. In their place came the untested Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer, Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, and A Nacachi. They left behind two Shakey’s V-League championships and two UAAP Women’s Volleyball first runners-up finishes.
There weren’t much chances afforded the Lady Eagles after the Fab Five rode off into the sunset. But not only did they return to the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals but behind the core of Alyssa Valdez, Denden Lazaro, Amy Ahomiro, and Ella De Jesus — not to mention Jia Morado — they won two UAAP titles.
Now that aformentioned four are done as well and there’s there are these questions essentially wrapped around that innocuous question posed to Bundit.
It’s a young team with promise. There are crucial ingredients to this team as there were with those that followed Soriano, Bello, Taganas and company’s departure — championship experience, youth, talent, and new pick-ups.
Oh, there’s that happy attitude and scrappiness that you have to appreciate. And to think that Jhoana Maraguinot, Bea De Leon, and Maddie Madayag still unavailable, that’s not a bad showing. There was the opportunity to line-up Alyssa Valdez one last time as a guest player but it was a good call to keep her on the sidelines as an assistant coach to allow this young team to grow, win, and lose on its own merits and demerits.
And speaking of merits, Pauline “Ponggay” Gaston gave a great account of herself in a starring role instead of the cameo appearances of last season. With Maraguinot unavailable due to a minor injury, Gaston showed what she could do playing the utility role. The attacking form could use some fine tuning but you know that Bundit has a few months to work on that. Nevertheless, she led the team in scoring with 17 points.
The game also featured the return of Michelle Morente and Ana Gopico who both had their moments. With Morente, it is especially crucial because she was named team captain (with Morado as co-captain). They were sorely missed last season and could have helped in the three-peat bid. But that’s in the past, this is now. If with Gaston, Bundit looks to refine her technique, with Morente is it about fitness, power, and consistency. Gopico? It’s confidence after coming out as a highly touted player then going through an injury that set her back. Both scored in double figures.
The hitting can be worked out, it is the defense that is what is worth noting. They performed better in digging and receiving than the veteran TIP squad that was bolstered with guest players in setter Chie Saet and middle hitter Mylene Paat. Of course, the defense is still far off but there were few balls they did not go after. They dove for a lot of them.
Jia Morado was once more a delight to watch (winning the battle of setters with Saet although she committed a crucial error - a missed drop shot in the fifth set) while Kim Gequillana and Gizelle Tan did well.
Rookie Julianne Samonte started in the middle position and had her moments. Her dunks reminded one of the Ateneo men’s team’s JR Intal — reaching up high then flooring that ball. Bundit though needs to work on her power and spiking. But there’s another jump spiker in the Lady Eagles!
While Bundit wanted to win the game (and yes, it was winnable), he noted the 52 errors his team gave up. “Time to learn more. Need experience,” he said as he made his way out of the Philsports Arena.
Where are you going, coach?
“Eat,” he said with a wide grin. “Bea (De Leon) birthday. Need to eat before working for a championship."