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SVL/ST Survival Kit: An All-Blue Championship Affair



Volleyball is a very unkind sport to the underdog – especially in long tournaments with series and multiple rounds such as the Shakey’s V-League and Spikers’ Turf.

Just by looking at each team on paper before the season, Ateneo and NU had a clear leg up on their competition on the women’s side. Had the tournament’s format been different, either team could have had their tournament march halted by a single bad day on the court. But, alas, both powerhouse squads were just too strong for the rest of the league.

Ditto for the Ateneo Blue Eagles who bamboozled their foes en route to a clean run to the Finals. Their opponents, the NU Bulldogs – a familiar foe by name but not by make – had as close to a roller-coaster as any team was going to have. Lined with rookiees and sophomores, the Bulldogs, who took a journey to find themselves this season, found a spot on the finals.

We fans are now up for an epic clash as Sampaloc’s Gold and Blue collides with Loyola’s proud Blue and White on what is set to be an epic two weeks of volleyball. Let’s take a look at how each team might fare, starting with the Men’s side.


Bulldogs v Eagles: the Dawgs remember

It was just a few months ago when the Blue Eagles celebrated their first UAAP Men’s Volleyball title and, in the process, shoved the Bulldogs from their throne.

Ateneo fielded all the key pieces to that h1storic run, reinforced by rookies and guest players in the Spikers’ Turf and they played close to perfect volleyball. Ateneo never surrendered more than two sets in a match and even had the luxury to shuffle their lineup every set against the best teams in the tournament.

NU could have gotten the band together for one last run. Peter Torres, Ben Inaudito, Edwin Tolentino, Berlin Paglinawan, and Henry Tipay were all eligible to avenge their loss in the UAAP. But the Bulldogs had other things in mind.

They paraded a team of mostly rookies and sophomores and no one had a good read on them until they played their first match – which was when all doubts flew out the arena. The incoming Bulldogs are a tall, wiry bunch – even exceeding the imposing length of their newly graduated seniors. Through their sheer stature and might, the young Bulldogs came away with victories, sweeps and nail-biters alike.

But, Ateneo savagely picked them apart in their second round meeting, inspiring doubt of the Bulldogs coming away with a single set in this best-of-three Finals series. What do we have to look forward to?

Vince gets wins

Other coaches choose to be coy when asked about their advantage against a certain foe. NU head coach, Dante Alinsunurin, is of a different sort.

“Si Vince (Mangulabnan) ang advantage namin,” Alinsunurin would say after matches when asked what went right for their team. “Maganda ‘yung naitutulong di lang sa pagiging setter, pati na ‘rin ‘yung pagiging beterano niya na lang. Malaking tulong kasi puro bata ang mga player namin.”


Young guns Bryan Bagunas, Madzlan Gampong, Fauzi Ismail, Kim Malabunga, and Francis Saura produce the big scoring numbers for the Bulldogs. But it’s Vince Mangulabnan’s decision making that vaults the Bulldogs over their opponents.

Playing in his fifth year for the Gold and Blue, the decorated setter has had his growing pains with his new bunch of weapons. In previous years, the NU offense churned out dizzying combination plays at seemingly every point. Mangulabnan with three at his disposal was like Magic Johnson on the fast break – you could never guess where the ball was gonna go. You had double quick plays for Torres and Tolentino, a compound set where Inaudito swooped in behind two spikers, and, of course, the lethal Peter Torres combination play.


They ran zero sets like that this season – no vaunted combination plays, just honest wing-middle-wing volleyball. At times, it worked for the Bulldogs. Their new pack had no trouble soaring over blockers or destroying their blockers’ arms altogether. Mangulabnan was just as comfortable with this simple style of play as he was with the frantic transitions of his old squad.

Simple, however, didn’t fly against Ateneo. The Ateneo blocking and floor defense had too easy of a time tracking down NU’s attacks leading to crushing counters from the Loyola side.

NU has tried to sprinkle in a few combination plays throughout the season but they weren’t as fluent as before. Factor in their sporadic service reception and coverage, and Mangulabnan’s in for a long day of chasing wild first balls.

The nearly two weeks of preparation time may not be enough time for NU to smoothen their play in the back row or their offense. But it could have very well afforded the young Bulldogs enough time to regroup and focus on their strength.

Aside for Mangulabnan, NU relies heavily on their blocking. They might not deny Ateneo’s attackers all the time, but getting deflections and coaxing the Eagles into errors can be achieved by simply pfacticing proper timing and placement on blocks.

And Coach Dante can always rely on Vince making the best of even the worst first balls. Alinsunurin, however, worries that the burden of being the team’s only veteran has dragged Mangulabnan’s performance slightly.

“Maraming iniisip ‘yung bata. Hindi lang kasi sa court at sa ensayo siya captain, pati na rin sa labas ng court pati sa dorm. Kung dati anim silang beterano, ngayon siya na lang. Mahirap talaga ‘yoon,” Alinsunurin remarked.

Mangulabnan, undoubtedly, isn’t phased by the glow of the Finals spotlight. His teammates, on the other hand, are new to the pressure. The young pups need to do a log of growing up in a short amount of time.

Jesus is an Atenean

Jesus is Ateneo’s savior – Marck Jesus Espejo that is.

ST ADMU vs NCBA huddle espejo-2

Espejo came in to a fledgling program and delivered them to two straight Finals appearances and a title in his two years in Loyola. He’s inspired support from a community that neglected his sport – turning them into believers. It’s life imitating art.

Metaphor’s out of the way, Marck Jesus Espejo is Ateneo’s, and the country’s, best player. It’s easy to watch his highlight reels filled with high-flying attacks and dismiss him as just an offensive player. But Espejo is not only Ateneo’s best attacker, he’s also their second best receiver and digger behind their libero Manuel Sumanguid III.

And his serve inspires destruction. A lot of other players have brandished devastating jump serves – Mark Alfafara has the consistently powerful version, Howard Mojica puts a slight cut into his haymakers. But no serve gets as much collective gasps and cringes than Espejo’s, whether they come from errors or aces. Once this season, he served three aces and six service errors. Last conference while playing for Cagayan, he short-armed a serve that gave their opponents the match in the fifth set, 15-13.

But there is a “Finals Espejo”. In the UAAP 77 Finals, the reigning MVP went for back-to-back 30+ point outings. Whenever Marck Espejo toed the service line, momentum shifted to Ateneo’s side. Espejo had only six service errors in that series and fired off eight aces including five in Game One.

And Espejo’s teammates aren’t bad either. Team captain Ysay Marasigan, is just as capabable of offensive outbursts as Espejo. Middle blockers, Josh Villanueva, Rex Intal, and rookie Tony Koyfman cover their blocking assignments incredibly well while disposing of the few sets they get efficiently as the Blue Eagles set to the middle only once every six tosses.


“I always tell my team that we need to keep improving because the other teams are surely working hard as well. We always prepare our best for our opponents and we’ve worked on being consistent. Thankfully, nakakapagpakita kami ng results. And hopefully magpatuloy hanggang Finals,” said Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro after his team clinched a Finals seat.

No team has taken more than one set against the Blue Eagles and it’ll be a tall task for a young NU team to take down such a well-oiled and highly-motivated machine.

The Blue Eagles are amazing offensively and defensively. They’re going to look just as amazing with their first Spikers’ Turf Collegiate trophy.


Lady Bulldogs vs Lady Eagles: Turned Tables

Two years ago, a star-studded Ateneo squad – that had Rachel Daquis, Alyssa Valdez, Jem Ferrer, etc. – fell to a determined NU side – with rookie Jaja Santiago, graduating Ate Dindin, Rubie De Leon and co.- in a meteoric Finals. Two years ago, Coach Roger Gorayeb paced the Ateneo sidelines. Two years ago, Anusorn Bundit hadn’t changed the landscape and philosophy of local volleyball.

A lot happened in two years as now, the Lady Eagles are favored to snatch the title from the three-time finalists. But a recent loss to the UST Tigresses stripped the UAAP champs of their air of invincibility and made the ball just a little bit rounder. How can NU capitalize?

Believe in what you have

It would be easy to write-off the Lady Bulldogs as their biggest advantage, guest player Dindin Santiago-Mananat, is off in Vietnam playing for Petron in the AVC Club Championships and won’t be back until Game Two.

Without Manabat, the pressure falls squarely on resident middle blocker, Roselyn Doria to stabilize the action at the net as best she can.

AU vs. NU Singh Doria block Salamagos

“Hindi man siya nakakascore, nakakablock, nakakadepensa, at maganda ‘yung serve niya. Maganda ‘yung nilalaro ng bata kahit hindi kita sa stats,” NU head coach Roger Gorayeb commented on Doria.

NU also has the much-improved Jaja Santiago who leads the tournament in attacking percentage. Santiago’s quick attacks are as close as we’re going to get to dunks in volleyball. The 6’5” Caviteña goes high over blocks and finishes hard. She’s also played around with adding a running attack to her game. She pumps a lot of velocity into her serves although she can still lessen her errors. If NU’s going to win the crown, Jaja Santiago needs as many opportunities as she can to exploit her size advantage.

Which is just as well that NU tapped the services of Rubie De Leon to set the plays. The seasoned journey-woman took over the setting responsibilities from rookie Rica Diolan in NU’s last three matches and she’s delivered results. It helps that she already has a feel for playing with Jaja Santiago as they teamed up last conference to win a title with PLDT. She barely makes mistakes and keeps her team’s attacks varied when she gets good passes. She, however, can’t go around chasing wild passes the entire match with her advanced age and less advanced conditioning so NU has to steady their ball control not just in short spurts, but for entire matches.

Rubie de Leon

It’s near impossible to catch up to the Lady Eagles once they’ve built a four-point lead or greater so there is no room to relax.

NU also has the fiery Myla Pablo in tow. The National Team standout is one of the few belles in the country who can come close to matching Valdez’s output scoring-wise and is also a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. Jorelle Singh provides uncanny power in the other open hitter slot. Singh pressures the Ateneo back line into working hard no matter what rotation they’re in.

Along with a rejuvenated Aiko Urdas and Bia General, NU has a similar complete lineup like they had two years ago.

NU can’t rely on Manabat’s arrival in the next matches to pull them through in this series. They have the pieces – it’s all a matter of getting over the huge Ateneo crowd and managing their mental game so their skills shine.

Errors, errors, errors

The Lady Eagles play a revolutionary style of volleyball (at least for here in the Philippines) that teams try to emulate.

They play fast and loose. Even without Jia Morado, Ateneo’s offense hummed through Gizelle Tan’s picture-perfect, back breaking sets. High sets are a last resort for the Tai Bundit-mentored squad and they resort to low, sharp sets to catch opposing blockers off guard. All of their players can also convert from whatever position they are on the court, making for a truly unpredictable attack.

But that pace has its drawbacks. The Lady Eagles sometimes play too fast for their own good leading to a lot of unforced errors. In the sets they win, the Lady Eagles cough up 5.67 errors. In the sets they lose, Ateneo gives up a whooping average of 9 errors.

The best teams in the world play more quickly, but manage their errors down to around 3-4 per set and they play more powerfully than Ateneo. The Lady Eagles aren’t as good as those teams, but they are the best in the country because, aside from the errors, there aren’t really one aspect of their game that can be considered as a weakness for them.

Going through their lineup, they have athletic middle blockers in Amy Ahomiro and Bea De Leon. Kim Gequillana has come leaps and bounds to solidify her starting opposite hitter spot, ditto × 50 for Jhoana Maraguinot, Ella De Jesus is a defensive menace, and the aforementioned Tan has filled in nicely for Morado.

And they have two-time UAAP MVP, SVL Open Conference MVP, Team Pilipinas captain, Queen of Loyola, Queen of the UAAP, Lady Ragnant of Heartstrong, Mother of Eagles, Bringer of Championships, Breaker of Streaks, Khaleesi Alyssa Valdez.

SVL College ADMU vs. TIP Valdez praying

The Batangueña is as unstoppable as she is congenial. Opponents have her all-over their scouting reports but no team has stopped her consistently.

It is important to reiterate that this isn’t basketball. There is no Pao Javelona that can mark the opponent’s best player and hold him to a dismal shooting clip. Stopping a team’s best option needs to involve all six players on the court. Focus too much on Valdez, and you leave another Lady Eagle with barely a blocker. All NU can do is choose whose going to beat them and limit Aly’s effectiveness.

In the loss to UST, Ateneo visibly suffered from problems outside of the court. One can’t simply bet on Ateneo having back-to-back bad games especially with so much time in between matches. It’s going to take unprecedented effort to beat Ateneo at the top of their game.


Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball – from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado’s setting.

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Roger Pogoy churns best performance against former teammates



Prior to Wednesday, all eyes were on the TNT Katropa-Blackwater Elite face-off, with many curious to see how last season’s Rookie of the Year Roger Pogoy would fare against his former FEU teammates Mac Belo and Raymar Jose.

And as the final buzzer sounded, the 25-year-old Pogoy had reigned triumphant over his close pals, getting away with a conference-best performance as a bonus.

The six-foot-two Cebuano sniper fired a game-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, along with eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals, to lead the Texters to a skid-ending, 92-83 victory at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.

“Must-win talaga namin ‘to para makabawi kami, kasi 1-2 na yung standing namin (before the game) eh.

“Buti na lang maganda yung nilaro ko,” said Pogoy, who was just averaging 11.3 points in the past three games.

But Pogoy tipped his hat to the much taller Elite, who enjoyed plenty of time in the driver’s seat in the first half, until the Katropa found their groove in the third canto — highlighted by a 16-3 rally that put them ahead, 60-53.

“Malakas yung Blackwater eh, tapos ang lalaki nila kaya mahirap mag-drive, mahirap pumasa kasi naagaw nila,” said Pogoy. “Buti na lang naka-adjust kami nung second half. Hindi kami nagmadali, dinahan-dahan namin.”

Aside from his own outing, Pogoy is thankful that they were able to address their fourth quarter woes when facing the Elite — the issue that hounded them in their 76-88 loss to the San Miguel Beermen last Saturday in Iloilo.

TNT had actually been mere steps away from melting down — again — against Blackwater, no thanks to a 20-9 run that wiped out their 17-point lead to just six,

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With Nash Racela knowing his tendencies, Mac Belo limited to poor shooting



Prior to Wednesday, Blackwater Elite’s young star Mac Belo was on a roll early in the 2018 Philippine Cup, averaging exactly 20 points on 42.6 percent shooting in their games against Meralco, Rain or Shine, and Ginebra.

But, as they say, good things must come to an end.

Belo, despite having 13 rebounds, was held to just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting as the Elite bowed to TNT Katropa, 92-83 — a sour loss knowing that they’re coming off huge 94-77 win against Ginebra last Friday.

“Bukol,” said Belo in jest of his poor outing after the match. “Big test para sa’min kasi yung TNT talagang isang de-kalibreng team dito sa PBA.

“Talagang pinaghandaan nila kami, at gustong-gusto nila manalo.”

It also did not help that the Katropa’s head coach, Nash Racela, was his coach in FEU Tamaraws for three years — a relationship brightly highlighted by a championship run in the UAAP Season 78 back in 2015.

“Siyempre alam niya yung mga tendencies ko. Matagal ko siyang coach sa FEU,” said the 6-foot-4 forward.

“Sa akin naman, kailangan ko pa matuto sa ganun, kung anong mga defense binabato niya sakin. Kailangan ko pang pag-aralan.”

But for Belo, the loss was more than his own showing. The 25-year-old lamented his and the Elite’s lapses on defense, which was encapsulated by the second half collapse they had that allowed TNT to come back and steal the win.

“Medyo marami lang kaming lapses especially sa defense namin,” said the sophomore forward, as they allowed TNT to shoot 41.6 percent from the floor. “Maraming mga miscommunication na kailangan pa namin i-work.”

Belo and the Elite are now set to move on from this bitter defeat, as they all shift their sights in their match this Friday versus GlobalPort Batang Pier. For the Gilas Pilipinas stalwart, it is already a must-win for them.

“Kailangan namin ng rest ngayon kasi back-to-back games kami. We need to win sa Friday para okay sa’min,” said Belo. “Kailangan din namin paghandaan kasi galing sila sa win.

“Kailangan namin i-double yung effort namin.”

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Jake Vicen performs under pressure as Blazers end eight-year title drought



For the second straight match, the championship showdown between the College of Saint Benilde Blazers and the Arellano University Chiefs reached kicks from the penalty spot. And once more, goalkeeper Jake Vicen came up big.

The third-year custodian denied one of Arellano’s prolific scorers Roberto Corsame in the shootout and sealed the title after eight long years, 3-2, penalties, Wednesday evening at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The Blazers made its intentions clear from the get-go as they repeatedly pierced through the defense of the Chiefs.

Nonetheless, at the 38th minute, the white-shirts clinched the goal they much deserved. The Blazers pushed forward, and almost got a call in their favor. The referees, however, played advantage, and fortunately Benilde held on to the play.

Miguel Artillera found himself unmarked on the right flank and easily blasted the ball past opposing keeper Jericho Desalisa.

The Marlon Maro—mentored side continued to play aggressive in the following period and almost plucked a second one. This time, the Chiefs’ backline led by eventual Best Defender Patrick Bernarte held on.

Such stand was rewarded by their attacking force minutes later, and, as expected, the equalizer came from the counterattack.

Corsame received a pass from the middle and defeated two defenders, and seeing Vicen off his line, sent the ball into the onion bag at the 49th minute.

Both sides tried to break the deadlock, but fatigue slowly crept in the dying minutes of the second period and the whole of extra time, setting up another thrilling finish in the shootout.

Much like in Game 2, the two keepers came up big as Desalisa and Vicen denied their second kickers a clear shot. Arellano went to miss another shot, and it was then up to the Blazers to seal the deal.

Dean Ebarle stepped up and calmly and slotted the ball into the goal for the lead at 3-2. Afterwards, Corsame faced Vicen, but this time, the Cebuano keeper would not be denied. The latter went to his strong side, and, fortunately, guessed right for the huge save as pandemonium erupted from the Benilde crowd and squad.

The Finals series hero and season Best Goalkeeper Vicen was pleased that the new champions carved out the historic win despite early adversity. “Big loss ‘yun, si Val [Calvo], kasi may magagawa talaga siya kung nakalaro namin,” he said of losing their former captain.

Nonetheless, the squad stayed focused on getting it done this year.

“Binuhos lang namin every minute sa training. Luckily, hard work paid off,” closed Vicen.

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Kelly Williams rides Angkas to make it to TNT game



The TNT Katropa almost played shorthanded when they took on the Blackwater Elite Wednesday evening at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

Early in the afternoon, a fire broke out in C5 that caused major traffic in the area. One of the people that was stuck was TNT’s 12-year veteran Kelly Williams.

“Coming from the South, I got to Taguig in about two and a half hours and I heard there was a fire on C5 and I was like, ‘Oh my god what am I going to do?’,” recalled Williams.

“I considered running, I considered jogging. Whatever you got to do, crawl, walk or run.”

Panicking, the 6-foot-6 Filipino-American was adviced by his driver to download Philippine-based mobile app Angkas — a motorcycle service provider. And it was one heck of a ride for the big man.

“My driver said check Angkas, an Uber for motorcycles. Okay. Quickly got out of the car in the middle of the C5, the middle of traffic, found this guy under the overpass, he was surprised to see me,” narrated animatedly by Williams.

“I got my helmet on, jumped on the bicycle and we got here for about 40 minutes,” he furthered. “Every stoplight, the other motorcycles pull up, double take, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’, ‘Hi guys!’ It was fun, it was actually pretty fun but never again, make sure you plan ahead guys if you possibly get stuck in traffic.

“But it was a good experience for me. You get to see Manila in a different light.”

Around midway through the first quarter of the game, Williams finally arrived. Though relieved to see him, coach Nash Racela and the rest of the Katropa made sure to let him know that he was late.

“Good experience, I apologized to the team, I owe them a team lunch or something and I told coach I won’t do it again,” the 35-year-old expressed.

“Let’s pray that it doesn’t happen again.”

Williams compensated for it by giving TNT quality minutes. During their 92-83 win against the Elite, he tallied six points, six rebounds, and four blocks in just 17 minutes of action.

“You got to come out there with extra effort after coming in late like that. But it’s always my intention to come out and do whatever I have to do,” he expressed.

“Luckily, I was in a good position to get some blocks and it worked out that way.”

And he owes a lot to his driver Richard, who got him to the venue just in time.

“It was a good experience though, thank you to the cyclist, I think his name is Richard or something like that, he’s a lifesaver.

“I tipped him very handsomely. It was about a hundred but I’m sure I paid with whatever was in my pocket because I was very grateful,” he quipped.

Still, he knows that he also owes a lot to his team. He plans on making it up by treating everyone to lunch during their next practice.

Lesson learned for Kelly.

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