The UST Golden Tigresses had a decent start in UAAP Season 80 by winning two of their first four games over UE and Adamson. But their campaign went south after a five-game losing streak against NU, UP, FEU, UE, and FEU again in that order.
At 2-7, they needed to win all of their remaining games to have a shot at the Final Four. They did secure back-to-back wins over Lady Maroons and the Lady Bulldogs. But they closed the season with three straight losses and a 4-10 record.
One can argue that injuries decimated UST’s hopes of returning to the post-season. Libero Rica Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury three games into the competition while Rookie of the Year Milena Alessandrini missed some games in the first round due to a shoulder strain. Add to that EJ Laure’s injury and Ria Meneses not using her final year of eligibility and you’ll get an overview of the odds stacked against the squad.
But while the return of one Laure is still uncertain, another one is giving the UST faithful hope. Eya Laure has played well during the off-season by winning the PSL Collegiate Grand Slam Best Opposite Spiker award. Pair her with Alessandrini and the Tigresses now have an attacking duo that will roar in the court. There’s no shortage of hype for their young and talented players. But the UAAP is a league where everyone raises their game a notch higher.
Therefore, if UST’s Season 81 will be turned into a movie, the title will be…Chasing Expectations.
Even team captain Cherry Ann Rondina has one last year left to carry the España-based squad to greater heights. Experts added weight upon her shoulders by naming her as one of the favorites for an individual award at season’s end. Having her, Eya Laure, Alessandrini, and Dimdim Pacres make for an enviable spiking core that setters Alina Bicar and Mafe Galanza must utilize effectively.
Yet as the Golden Tigresses have one of the best wing rotations coming into Season 81, their middle game could be their Achilles heel given that Tin Francisco will be out for the entire tournament. Upholding UST’s resolve in that spot will rest upon the performance of Caitlyn Viray and rookie Kecelyn Galdones. Coach Kung Fu Reyes might even place Alessandrini at that zone sparingly. On the defensive side, Rivera will place high expectations on herself as well to make up for that lost season.
Expectations for the UST Golden Tigresses are high that fans see them making the jump from seventh spot to a Final Four seat. But they should be wary that the danger of injury is always chasing. If they can chase that away, their unit can pack a resounding roar that can reverberate to a post-season appearance.