Another exciting UAAP Women’s Volleyball season kicked off on Sunday at The Arena in San Juan. The opening whistle has been blown, signaling the start of the league's much-anticipated Season 78.
For the first match of the year, the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons went up against the University of the East Lady Warriors. The volleybelles from Katipunan easily dominated the Lady Warriors, winning the game convincingly with a score-line of 25-20, 25-13, 25-21. How sweep it is!
In the second game, defending champs Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles started the season on a positive note, warding off the National University Lady Bulldogs, 25-21, 25-19, 25-14. Reigning back-to-back MVP Alyssa Valdez once again led the way for the ladies in blue and white, scoring 17 big points.
The first battles have been fought but we all know that there's still a load of games to be played. With that in mind, we've come up with a short preview of what to expect from the eight participating teams in the country’s most prestigious collegiate volleyball tournament.
Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles
Team projection: Team to beat
Two-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University started its title retention bid with an easy demolition of National University, 25-21, 25-19, 25-14.
Back-to-back Most Valuable Player and Lady Eagles skipper Alyssa Valdez is again up for a tough task of leading a rebuilding team to the promise land after the departure of defensive specialist Denden Lazaro, Ella de Jesus, and Aerieal Patnongon.
This year’s Ateneo batch is similar to the rookie-laden team that moved heaven and earth to defeat a mighty La Salle side that was looking to extend its championship run to four back in 2014.
Despite its current status, Ateneo is still projected as the team to beat.
Valdez is optimistic that, with the guidance of their master tactician Tai Bundit, the architect of the team's first title (Season 76) in the league, the "heart strong" Lady Eagles will bag their third consecutive crown.
Team projection: Heavy favorite to win the championship
Losing to its archrival twice in the last two seasons, De La Salle University is looking to finally end the dry spell and bring the crown back to Taft.
In Season 76, the Lady Spikers’ three-year reign was put to an end by an Alyssa Valdez-led Ateneo squad.
Talented Lady Spiker Ara Galang is back with a vengeance after suffering ACL and MCL injuries on her left knee after an awkward fall in De La Salle’s stepladder semifinal match against National University last year.
Aside from Galang, La Salle middle blocker Mika Reyes, veteran setter Kim Fajardo and spiker Cyd Decemillo are expected to step up under eight-time UAAP champion coach Ramil de Jesus.
Galang said that they're aiming for a trip back to the Finals, stressing that they will take it one game at a time.
The Lady Spikers may have lost the title twice to the Lady Eagles, but the other teams still consider them as a Finals contender.
National University Lady Bulldogs
Team projection: Final Four
After a third-place finish last season, National University is looking to place a step higher and enter the Finals.
Veteran coach Roger Gorayeb will bank on his 6-foot-5 middle blocker Jaja Santiago, hard-hitting open spiker Myla Pablo, Jorelle Singh, and returning spiker Aiko Urdas.
Jaja has been playing volleyball left and right after Season 77. The younger sister of former NU captain Dindin Santiago, she suited up for the national team that competed at the 28th Southeast Asian Games, won two championships in the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 for the Collegiate and Open Conferences, and, before 2015 ended, bagged the title in the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix on her rookie year with Foton.
Myla also had a taste of international play when she joined Jaja in the Under-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship.
The Lady Bulldogs are one of the favorites coming into the season. However, they lost to Ateneo, 21-25, 19-25, 14-25, in the season opener.
That's just one game though.
With the players’ experience and Gorayeb’s volleyball IQ, the Lady Bulldogs should bounce back and prove to be a force to reckon with in the league.
Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws
Team projection: Final Four entry
Gunning for its 30th title in the UAAP, Far Eastern University hopes to end a seven-year title drought.
The league’s winningest women’s volleyball team will lean on the experience and wisdom of veterans Mary Palma, Gyzelle Sy, and Bernadeth Pons to improve on its fourth-place finish last season.
But it won’t be an easy journey for the Lady Tamaraws as they welcome the new season with five rookies in the team: Via Bal, Maria Cayuna, Ria Duremdes, Carlota Hernandez, and Jeanette Villareal.
Palma, the team captain, however, said that she expects the rookies to act like veterans, to have the swag of a Lady Tamaraw, and not be intimidated by other teams.
University of Santo Tomas Lady Tigers
Team projection: Rebuilding team
Missing the Final Four for three consecutive years is mortal sin for UST, especially since the team has consistently reached the semifinals since the Final Four format was introduced in Season 56.
This year, the Tigresses are expected to deliver under new coach Kungfu Reyes and sophomore skipper EJ Laure, veterans Mela Tunay, Jessey de Leon, Ria Meneses, and Cherry Rondina.
UST, which finished fifth last year, is the second winningest team in the league with 14 titles.
University of the Philippines Lady Maroons
Team projection: Dark horse for a Final Four slot
With a couple of off-season tournaments and a bunch of promising rookies, University of the Philippines is off to a good start after an easy win over University of the East, 25-20, 25-13, 25-21.
From a sixth place finish last year in the UAAP, UP came in third in the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Reinforced Conference.
Skipper Kathy Bersola returned after being sidelined by an ACL tear on her left knee to provide added boost for the Lady Maroons.
The 19-year-old team captain noted that even though half of the team is composed of rookies (Mae Angeli Basarte, Justine Dorog, and Maria Lina Isabel Molde from Hope Christian High School, Diana Mae Carlos of Sta. Cruz Academy, Sheena Mae Chopitea product of Barangka National High School, Aieshalaine Gannaban of Parang High School, and Maristela Genn Layug from King's Montessori School), their newbies are as good as the veterans.
Adamson University Lady Falcons
Team projection: Rebuilding team
From a disappointing seventh place finish last season, Adamson is aiming to soar higher for a return trip to the Final Four.
But the Lady Falcons’ flight to the upper half will be a tough task after the departure of top hitter Amanda Villanueva.
Skipper Mylene Paat, however, believes that their rookies (Bernadette Flora, Lynne Matias, Maria Fatima Joaquin, Ronjean Momo, Ciarnelle Wanta) are up for the challenge.
University of the East Lady Warriors
Team projection: Rebuilding team
This season, University of the East hopes to end a three-year winless drought.
Rookies Isabelle Camama, Juliet Catindig, Dana Alyssa Disquitado, Celine Elaiza Domingo, Mariella Gabarda, Mary Anne Mendrez, and Seth Marione Rodriguez are expected to prove they are worthy of the spot and work together with veterans Ma. Shaya Adorador, Jasmine Alcayde, and Angelica Dacaymat.
It won't be easy for the Lady Warriors to move out of the cellar though, with a lot of inexperienced rookies in the team and with the rest of the league just getting stronger. Still, you never know. Stranger things have happened. If there's one thing we're sure of, these ladies won't back down without a fight.