If the past three seasons of the UE Lady Warriors were turned into a movie, viewers would not dare to finish it for the outcome was too predictable. With only four wins in 42 games, the production was a flop.
But something happened last year that the squad haven’t experienced in a while: a winning streak. Under interim head coach and UE Athletic Director Rod Roque, the Lady Warriors registered a victory over the Adamson Lady Falcons to end the first round of eliminations. An encore was delivered the following week when they defeated the UST Golden Tigresses.
Then they took bronze in the inaugural PSL Collegiate Grand Slam, defeating the FEU Lady Tamaraws. While the tournament is not a complete barometer of how good the UAAP teams that participated can be, the victory injects a dose of confidence to the perennial cellar-dwellers. Therefore, the story line of UAAP Season 81 for the Recto-based crew is…The Climb to Relevance.
It will still be no easy feat for the Lady Warriors to rise from the bottom as the other seven schools have upgraded their units. But their performances during the previous months reveal a cast that is mature and with a chip on their shoulder to prove that they are warriors who will fight. What has changed? New head coach Rey Karl Dimaculangan believes that it’s in improving their relationships with one another.
“Ang una namin ginawa sa team ay maging solid muna sila, bonding, kasi as is yun team eh. May kinuha kaming mga bago pero old players pa rin karamihan. So bonding muna then puro pre-season games. Yun iba nag-club, yun iba for exposure. Then lately, doon na kami nagtry na buo-in and preparation na ito for UAAP. Nag-grow naman paunti-unti kaya by UAAP, ready na sila,” he said in an interview at CNN’s Sports Desk
With a united front, the Lady Warriors are raring to prove that this year will be unlike the previous ones. They may have lost Shaya Adorador coming into this competition but they have a dependable corps that will lead their charge.
Mary Anne Mendrez and Judith Abil are the main characters in their offense. While bulk of the scoring load will fall onto their shoulders, Abil is not feeling the pressure of her major role. “Wala pong pressure kasi hindi naman po nagbibigay ng pressure si Coach Karl sa amin. Gusto lang talaga ipakita nila coach na kapag training, training talaga. Kapag palo, palo talaga. Kapag maganda yun set tapos bigla mo i-drop ball, sayang. Kaya kailangan i-todo. Gusto nila na kapag papalo, todo talaga. Kaya todo din ang training.”
The scrimmages could be tense for setter Laizah Bendong as well. But the pre-season tournaments and the tough practices helped her get a better feel of their arsenal. “Malaking tulong po yun sa PSL kasi nakapa ko po yun laro ng mga wing spikers namin. Kaya alam ko na kahit wala si Ate Shaya, kaya namin itong season na ito,” she shared.
However, the guidance of team captain Roselle Baliton will be crucial when push comes to shove. For her, they should not be contented with the modest success they’ve enjoyed. “Coming into the season, fresh pa sa amin yun pagkapanalo namin doon sa PSL, gusto lang namin dalhin sa UAAP na kaya natin ito, nagpagdaanan na natin ito. Sabi nga ni coach sa amin lagi, although malapit na yun UAAP, na dapat yun sarili mo ini-improve mo unti-unti para yun ang madadala namin sa game,” she mentioned.
Of course, Kath Arado will be their neutralizer on defense. But that side of the ball for UE should not be a one-woman show. Aside from Baliton, the likes of Seth Rodriguez, Remcel Santos, Erika Lopez, and Jana Sta. Maria should man the net with urgency in order to get better first balls and sets. Jasmine Alcayde, Zilfa Olarve, and Mia Manabat should also be ready when their number is called.
Will the UE complete their quest of climbing up from the eighth spot and give the other schools a run for their money? That will only be answered when “The Climb to Relevance” featuring the Lady Warriors, premieres against the UP Lady Maroons on February 16, 2 pm, at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan City.