In a recent article published in our website, Kat Tolentino mentioned that she has no doubt about the Ateneo Lady Eagles returning to the UAAP women’s volleyball Finals in Season 81. This is something out of left field for the two-time UAAP champions for they’ve been used to letting their game speak for itself. Could this be part of the transition from a quiet Tai Bundit to the feisty Oliver Almadro?
But reading between the lines, Tolentino’s statement is actually linked to one tenet that Almadro always shares: trust. The graduating Lady Eagle is imparting confidence to her fellow players that they can get it done especially after the FEU Lady Tamaraws denied them of a seventh straight Finals appearance. It is a bold order from one of the team’s leaders saying that nothing less is expected from them. That when the chips are down, they have no one else to trust but their coaches and the other 13 players in the bench.
Therefore, if Season 81 for the Ateneo Lady Eagles will be turned into a movie, the title will be…Mission: Possible
Other UAAP teams, you’ve been warned
On paper, that guarantee is deliverable as Ateneo has one of the most formidable rosters in the competition. Tolentino, Maddie Madayag, and Bea De Leon is a nightmare for opposing teams for their length gives them the ability to spike at will or stop enemy attacks. Setters Deanna Wong and Janel Maraguinot have the enviable task of delivering the balls to these players. If that doesn’t work, they can run plays for Ponggay Gaston, Jules Samonte, or rookie Vanessa Gandler.
As talented these players are, it will still be Tolentino who will be relied upon the most. Aside from reaping the benefits of Coach Almadro’s system, her shift to opposite spiker has paid dividends as shown during last year’s PVL Open Conference. She was the main reason why Ateneo-Motolite finished first runner-up to the Creamline Cool Smashers despite going up against more experienced players.
What could be their Achiles’ heel?
Their offense is certainly in good hands with everyone mentioned above. But their stint in the Open Conference also showed that there are still question marks regarding their floor defense and first ball reception. Look back into their first encounter against the Pocari-Sweat Lady Warriors in that tournament. If the Dani Ravena who showed up before the “Walang duwag na Ravena” quip in that game will persist during UAAP Season 81, then they have a problem. The other teams can formulate a service strategy geared towards Ravena and Kim Gequillana to score at ease. But if they have addressed this concern, they will only soar above the competition.
Aside from Gandler and Maraguinot, Almadro might field in rookies Erika Raagas, Ayumi Furukawa, and Jaycel Delos Reyes to give them a feel of playing a UAAP women’s volleyball match. While Furukawa and Delos Reyes are used to playing in big games for Nazareth School of National University, they are more of understudies to their graduating players.
The Ateneo Lady Eagles will be immediately tested against the defending champion and archrival De La Salle University Lady Spikers in their opening game for UAAP Season 81. The outcome of that game could be a good measuring stick on how they will fare during the tournament. But just like the new mood that sweeps the squad, they will muster the courage to pull out one big fight in every rally in every game.