If there was ever an off-season award for Most Improved Player, Ateneo’s Kat Tolentino would win it by a mile.
Fans who religiously followed the UAAP Season 80 Women’s Volleyball tournament and the PVL Open Conference last year would find it impossible to miss the Filipino-Canadian’s higher leaps and more lethal kills during the latter.
Almost three years since her third ACL tear incident, Tolentino seems to have finally recovered from the mental aspect of the injury.
“I definitely overcome the fear part of just jumping,” she told Volleyverse minutes after the 2019 PVL All-Star wrapped up Saturday.
While she looked hesitant especially during broken plays in the Lady Eagles’ 2018 UAAP campaign, she went all out in the Open Conference. This helped the Katipunan-based squad tally enough wins to overtake veteran-laden clubs and set up a Finals duel against the Creamline Cool Smashers.
The most glaring factor that could have led to Tolentino’s sudden resurgence? Ateneo tapping Oliver Almadro as Lady Eagles head coach, replacing Tai Bundit.
“The system of Coach O (Oliver Almadro) has a program that really focuses on your jumps. That’s part of the improvement. The strength and conditioning is helping me not just build confidence but also be physically stronger,” she said.
As a testament to this newfound confidence, Tolentino bagged the Best Opposite Hitter award in the latest PVL conference, besting the likes of Creamline’s Michele Gumabao and BanKo Perlas’ Suzanne Roces while learning the ropes of the new position.
Asked if she’s more comfortable hitting from the right wing, the former outside hitter said it could be a factor but her improvement should be credited mostly to Almadro and Bundit.
Talking about her new role for the team, she says: “The utility position has more time and you can focus more on hitting because the set is closer.”
“But for me, I really think it’s the way Coach O has built my confidence. His system is really effective for me and it shows in my game,” she added. “But of course coach Tai’s (Bundit) program also built me to become stronger and get into the physical shape I was. I credit both of them.”
With Tolentino and the rest of the Lady Eagles looking fit and in good condition following their training camp in Japan, spectators are predicting that they are ripe for a return in the Finals after missing it last year.
Without any sugarcoating, Tolentino agrees.
“I think we’ll make the Finals. I’m hoping to get the championship but for me, I can feel it that we’ll make it to the Finals,” she closed.