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UAAP Campfire: Stepladder Day 1 – Rivalry Renewed



Another year, another sweep, and another stepladder to climb. Though this type of format seems too tedious to follow, it does offer us volleyball fans the glorious action of do-or-die games: one match per day, loser goes home, winner continues the exhausting climb up the stepladder gauntlet. Get ready for tears, screams, and the best volleyball action this country has to offer, but remember, from this point on, only one team will end their season as winners.

Today, we take a look at the first matchup of the stepladder- a grudge match that may be unknown to most volleyball fans who picked up the sport within the past few years, UST vs FEU. These are two of the most storied Women’s Volleyball programs in the UAAP, as they have between them 43 Women’s Volleyball titles since the inception of the league. These two really haven’t had a chance to rekindle the storied past rivalry of their schools, since both have struggled to make it to the Final Four in the past few years. UST hasn’t sniffed the postseason since Legendary Tigress and former MVP Aiza Maizo last suited up for them, while FEU last made the Final Four in the best season of former Best Scorer Rose Marie Vargas.

It has been a turbulent rebuilding effort for both teams, but now they’ve mustered the right mix of veterans and young talent to finally break out of mediocrity. There is, however, only one spot left for either one of these teams to be vindicated, so who has the advantage? Who wants this win more? Let’s breakdown each team.

All about them bigs

USTvsFEU Round 2-1371

A lot of people started writing off the Lady Tams as they stumbled into the second round of eliminations, but due to a series of favorable events, FEU found their elusive starting six right in their last two games, as their clutch wins over UP and AdU landed them right where they are now.

A huge part of their run was the sudden impressive play of their two middle blockers, Remy Palma and Geneveve Casugod. The pair was struggling to make significant contributions to the team, but has now caught fire. Both have scored over double digits in the past two games with more than two blocks each.

Coach Shaq was shuffling the pair with first-year player Jerrili Malabanan in the rotation, but it seems this pair has stuck. Both possess imposing height and length that destroyed their opponents in the past two games, but their most devastating weapon- especially for Palma- is the running attack. FEU has mastered setting this play up for their middle blockers, and Casugod may have finally developed the instinct to pull this deadly maneuver off.

Because of these two, FEU always has an imposing blocker at the net no matter what rotation – the Lady Tams ended the elimination round as the second best blocking team – which is going to be a problem for the Thomasians to match up against. UST does have an imposing blocker themselves in sophomore Ria Meneses, the top-five blocker in the league. They do struggle however when their other blocker, Jesse De Leon, probes the net. This is because De Leon is undersized for the position and is sometimes an underwhelming blocker when put up against the best middle players of the league. Coach Odjie has even taken De Leon out for beefier and less-used Shanen Palec just to see if she can offer more blocking. Should one of FEU’s bigs not perform up to par, Coach Shaq will have the confidence to field Malabanan instead- a confidence developed in their mad lineup scrambles early in the season. This type of flexibility in the position is something UST is lacking.

If FEU is going to win this match, they are going to need their big ladies to stay on this hot streak. It will be interesting to see if UST can make the adjustments to stop FEU’s big ladies.

The Puto Queen

FEUvsUE Round 2-0484

There are only two Liberos in the UAAP right now who are so damn entertaining to watch just for their knack for keeping the ball alive – Ateneo’s Denden Lazaro and FEU’s Tine Agno. I would definitely trust Agno with my hypothetical baby knowing that she’ll never allow it to drop to the floor. To the keen volleyball observer, it is no secret that Agno really fuels this team with her steady back row play. Her impeccable digging and reception make it so much easier for her setter to setup the offense, especially those running attacks and combination plays.

Nonetheless, the problem is everyone else on the team can get sporadic at times with their reception. Watch an FEU game, and you’ll often see Agno dive in front of her teammate that the opposing servers are targeting. This can be a problem especially if the match drags on into extra sets as Agno might get worn down with all the rolling around the floor she does.

The key here for UST is to load up their serves and make it difficult for FEU to receive. They really won’t need aces because bad receptions already disrupt FEU’s complex offense. Make Agno a virtual mop with all her technique and UST should get their fair share of free balls which they can easily convert with their explosive spiking – which is the fourth best in the league.

FEU also has great serving as they finished the elims ranked third in the category. But UST’s offense doesn’t need the best receptions and digs to get cooking. Their open spikers, EJ Laure and Pam Lastimosa, just need to get the ball high enough in order to notch a point for their team.

All the pressure on reception is on the Lady Tams. They boast about the complex FEU offense that has won their team championships in generations past, but they still need to pass the ball just right to their setters to get the wheels turning on their offensive locomotive.

Minsan Mela, Minsan Wala

USTvsUP Round 2-3303

Perhaps no one on this UST team has had an up-and-down season more than the graduating utility spiker, Carmela Tunay. You’ll hear it on TV broadcasts as the go-to adjective for Tunay, and justifiably so. On her best days, Tunay truly is one of the best all-around players in the league with her amazing mix of offensive spikes and mellow volleyball skills. The thing is, she is inconsistent.

This season, Tunay had a first round to forget, barely scratching double digits in their first five games before busting out late in a five-set loss against the Lady Bulldogs. She was even taken out of the starting six for Chloe Cortez.


This UST team has so many weapons in its arsenal with EJ Laure and Pam Lastimosa- also a graduating player- capable of blasting through opposing defenses. But the Tigresses are so much better when Tunay gets her numbers as well. Coach Mamon even went as far as experimenting with Lastimosa at the utility position just to see if they have that option should either Mela or Cortez have an off game.

The next UST games could possibly be her last in the UAAP. How Tunay reacts to this type of pressure is going to be the best test of who the real Tunay is. Will we get the aloof Mela of this season’s first round, or will we get the Tunay that was ranked fifth in last season’s MVP tally?


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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