UAAP Women’s Volleyball Preview: Ateneo and UST
by rick olivares
This coming UAAP Women’s Volleyball season might be one of the most competitive ever.
There are a number of squads that looked remarkable in the pre-season who will challenge defending champion La Salle for this year’s crown. For sure, the first round will be crucial as there will be hardly any gimmes.
Let’s take a look at two of the squads competing on opening day.
Ateneo Lady Eagles
This might be the best and deepest team that Ateneo will field ever and no one should underestimate them even without the graduated Alyssa Valdez.
This is still a veteran-laden team with championship experience in both the UAAP and the V-League and that counts for a lot.
Consider their depth – Michelle Morente who was sorely missed last season, middle blockers Bea De Leon and Maddie Madayag, open spiker Jhoana Maraguinot, setter Gia Morado, libero Gizelle Tan, and utility Kim Gequillana. And there too are some other returnees in Ana Gopico who was part of the title team three years ago but got injured early that campaign. Katrina Tolentino was supposed to suit up last season but infamously got injured prior to the start of their V-League stint. They also have Ponggay Gaston Deanna Wong, Jennelle Lo, Jamie Lavitoria, and rookie Jules Samonte who played well during Ateneo’s V-League stint.
There’s depth in every position but the question is who will deliver consistently especially when they need points? Their biggest problem last season was defense – receiving and digging as well as blocking and that is something they worked on.
Last season, they lost Tolentino who never played a minute. Madayag was gone after she went down with a knee injury and that affected their defense. Morente’s firepower was sorely missed while others battled the usual assortment of niggling injuries.
So plus points are they are deep (rotating his players will be a good problem), healthy and have this upbeat attitude about the season. Especially the latter point. You cannot discount that positive attitude. How huge is that?
More to the consistency and baptism of fire as go-to players in the absence of Valdez, head coach Anusorn Bundit will have to do his best coaching. When he arrived more than three years ago, he lit a fire under the team and gave local coaching a massive upgrade. That other coaches have adjusted, the onus is on Bundit to show he’s still one of the best if not the best.
He’ll have his hands full against this next team that serves as their opening day opponent on February 4.
UST Golden Tigresses
A return to greatness? This team caught everyone’s attention in the pre-season with solid team play with others stepping up. And this team is as deep as any in the league.
They’ve got the exciting and always energetic Cherry Rondina. In addition to her spectacular offense, she plays good defense. Now she’s got another exciting counterpart on the wings with sophomore Carla Sandoval who really picked up her game. When she got injured, the team suffered in production from the opposite. Carla’s got hops, plays good defense, and provides leadership on the court in addition to the veterans.
When Sandoval went down with a hand injury during the last V-League conference, EJ Laure came up huge. If she can replicate that kind of play – consistency, power, and confident play, that will rub off on her teammates.
And speaking of veterans, Pam Lastimosa returns and she’ll be in fine form in her final season. Other vets who will be counted on include Chloe Cortez and Marivic Meneses. This team will have Alex Cabanos and Alina Bicar alternating at the setter slot.
There are their role players in Rica Rivera who was used as a libero during the V-League to help out Patricia Rasmo. She didn’t look comfortable at all but it was all she could do to get playing time in what is a deep line-up by Emilio “Kungfu” Reyes.
And there’s Tin Francisco, Caitlin Viray, Shannen Palec, and Mary Pacres who will all contribute in spot duty.
This is a team that needs some huge wins under their belt. If they play great defense and play to their potential, they will be frightening. And when they accomplish that, watch out. Anything less than a Final Four stint will be massively disappointing for this team.