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UAAP Volleyball Campfire: Opening Weekend Part 1

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#BALDOmination, the NU St. Bernards, and BOOM! Pacres! 

The first weekend of UAAP Volleyball was a surreal experience for not only me but also anyone who has been a fan of volleyball since the mid 2000s. It’s amazing to think that the sport has gathered enough attention to merit an opening day at such a huge venue like the MoA Arena and Men’s games that are now televised live.

It wasn’t too long ago when elimination round games were played in generally empty venues, with the only patrons being the somewhat obligated parents and loved ones. But rumor spread of a pony-tailed beauty dominating the competition for FEU. Then, the Fab Five happened, the Lady Spikers had their dynasty built and abruptly crushed, the Bulldogs started dominating the Men’s division, and now, we have Alyssa Valdez as the hands down face of the UAAP. There was a time I could have probably brought full on camping equipment to a game, set up a tent on the bleachers, and covered a game by a campfire while roasting marshmallows. Now I can’t even put my feet up on a chair without being yanked by a bouncer.

The game is in a much better place now overall than where it was nearly a decade ago. This weekend’s slew of opening games wasn’t short of enthralling, with a nice balance of engaging classic volleyball developments to some mad, seemingly unforeseeable lineup changes. So let’s look back at what each team displayed in their debuts and weed out what were just anomalies, and what could potentially have precedents to the overall title picture for each tournament.

Saturday games

Men’s Volleyball: NU Bulldogs def. AdU Falcons, 25-23, 25-21, 25-12

photo by Joaqui Flores

photo by Joaqui Flores

If we went ahead and lined up all the UAAP Men’s teams, gathered a group of casual volleyball fans, then had them choose which team they thought looked like the best volleyball team, they’d probably all point to NU. They are as close to the perfect storm of a team as anyone in the collegiate ranks. Their combined wingspan is probably enough to cover the length of the NU campus.

Which is probably why they’re the defending champs. Their vertically gifted lineup and unwavering floor defense just overwhelmed their foes. I’ve never seen as many well orchestrated combination plays as I did when I watched this team unleash Armageddon on the Falcons. The Bulldogs have also always been the league’s best blocking team, keying in on their opponents best scoring options, reading opposing sets and sending constant double and sometimes even triple blocks to shove a cork in their opponents. But the Men’s league has always been incredibly tricky especially now with the sport on the brink of a renaissance locally. The road to a third straight title won’t be easy, but they’re definitely still the odds on favorites.

So where does that leave the Falcons? Often, when a team gets so decisively blown out, it’s hard to find anything good to say about them. But again, they had the unwelcome privilege of being the first victims of a stacked, defending champion. They had their best player, Michael Sudaria, held to just 8 points, and their reception was uncharacteristically faulty. But this is a young Adamson team in the middle stages of rebuilding. They’ve continued to plug young talent into their lineup since Ron Jay Galang left, and with perennial powerhouses set to go through a down season, this is the perfect time for them to gather experience and break into the Final Four.

But Adamson has to find a way to clean up their floor defense in order for them to properly mount any offensive momentum or else they might have to watch other teams eke by them for a Final Four slot.

Men’s Volleyball: Ateneo Blue Eagles def. FEU Tamaraws, 25-14, 25-19, 25-20

Photo by Joaqui Flores

Photo by Joaqui Flores

Last year’s runner-up, the Blue Eagles looked sharp in their debut, a rematch against their first round, Final Four foes from last season, the FEU Tamaraws. Ateneo crept up on a lot of teams last season as no one really expected eventual RoY/MVP Marck Espejo to be that good, that early. But his addition has propelled this Ateneo squad into instant contender status, and though they won’t be creeping on anyone this season, look for the Blue Eagles to give NU a run for its money for the top seed in the Final Four. Though Espejo will certainly draw much of the attention from opposing defenses, Ateneo still has several veterans who can buoy their attack from droughts.

What was most surprising to me was how the FEU lineup looked. With the loss of Carl Dela Calzada, this team visibly lacked the length they’ve boasted in seasons past, hence the thrashing from Ateneo. What’s even more alarming was the fact that their highest scorer only managed five points. Dela Calzada was an unstoppable force at the net and was also this team’s leading scorer. The ability of this team to cope with his graduation might be the determining factor to their chances at a return to the Final Four. This is just their first game and it was against the second best team last season. FEU has the time and personnel to keep their winning tradition going. But all I know is, almost all teams are showing off revamped lineups, and this Ateneo-FEU matchup usually lasted five sets last season.

Women’s Volleyball: UST Tigresses def. UE Lady Warriors 25-11, 25-12, 25-14

de Leon 2

How much should we derive from this UST win? I really don’t want to take anything away from the Thomasinas after they played a tremendous game of volleyball. But isn’t this what they were supposed to do? Weren’t they supposed to bum-rush this Lady Warriors team?

And that’s where we go off from. Last season, these same Lady Tigresses were supposed to be a Final Four team given the way this team was built and with the additions they made throughout the offseason. But they lost some very winnable games for them, their sloppy play eventually leading to them dropping sets against teams they were supposed to dispose of in straight sets.

So it was an amazing change of pace to finally watch this team spread its wings and dominate a lesser opponent. Everyone was on point for the Tigresses as they refused to let go of the lead and momentum. There was a big question mark as to whether Lex Cabanos would be able to fill the role of lead setter, but if her first game was any indication of things to come, Cabanos should manage to keep this offense churning. Among those on the receiving end of Cabanos’ sets were EJ Laure, UST’s blue chip recruit who has drawn comparisons to fellow UST High alum, Alyssa Valdez. Laure looked great in her debut, pouring on her offensive onslaught in the first set and finishing with 8 points. Though just a rookie, you can tell simply by watching her that scoring just looks easy for her, although it did help that they were facing the vertically challenged Lady Warriors. This probably won’t happen often, but UST might be supremely entertaining when they roll out Boom! Pacres, and Cherry Rondina off the bench. Rondina and Pacres remind me a lot of Emman Monfort and Greg Slaughter with Ateneo’s men’s basketball team a few years back, being that when they come off the bench during timeouts, there is considerable size difference between them. The UST tandem will probably keep coming off the bench for the rest of their rookie season for UST but look for both of them to be integral parts of this UST team’s future.

Nonetheless, this mix of players UST has should be the best group Coach Mamon has had a chance to coach since he took the reins a few seasons ago. The Lady Tigresses will be a marvel to watch offensively with all the options they have available. Whether they can remain consistent in the other aspects of their game will determine if they can breakthrough the loaded middle pack of the tournament.

What can I say about the Lady Warriors? Well, it’s always to good to see a player get over whatever non-sport related problem she had and make her way back into the lineup. The problem is, UE needs a helluva lot more than Luisette Dawis to even just put up a fight. This team only managed 37 points and gave up 29 points in errors to UST, who only gave up 12 in the same category. But this team has relatively dynamic scorers in Shaya Adorador and Angelice Dacaymat who, if given enough room, could bop unprepared opponents. But the other teams who lost their debut matches over the weekend looked good in their matches, and this UE team didn’t. Wake me up when UE Women’s Volleyball becomes relevant.

Women’s Volleyball: ADMU Lady Eagles def. NU Lady Bulldogs 25-21, 25-18, 25-15

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In all my years of covering local collegiate sports, I’ve never seen anyone have the individual impact on a team sport that Alyssa Valdez has had on women’s volleyball. You can try to poke holes in her game, but there hasn’t been anyone who can score at will like she can in the history of local women’s volleyball. There were stretches in Saturday’s game when NU would threaten to take the lead from the Lady Eagles. Each time Coach Bundit would call timeout, Alyssa would score consecutive points to pull her team away, culminating in her closing the game with three consecutive aces. She wound up with 28 points in just three sets- an insane number considering the efficiency she did it with (converting 20 of her 35 spike attempts).

Valdez can score from anywhere; she probably already had 10 points while she was tying her shoes in the dugout. It’s her teammates’ performance that’s going to decide their fate in their title defense as it was in their run last season. In their first game, the supporting cast looked on point, with much of the usual suspects pitching in here and there. Ella De Jesus looked especially potent in the match, pacing Valdez with 10 points of her own. Look for each player to have a shining moment for the Lady Eagles’ season, as the constant threat of Baldo will surely open things up for her teammates.

Looking at the stats sheet alone, you might think NU was just simply overwhelmed this match. But the Lady Bulldogs were able to keep it close early in the first two sets. They just seemed to wilt when the pressure mounted late in close sets. Jaja Santiago showed flashes of how devastatingly dominant she can be, pounding holes in Ateneo’s middle defense, but adding a new caveat to her game by occasionally venturing to the open area and unleashing her unmatched aerial assaults from there. She finished with 16 points (converting 15 of her 27 spike attempts).

But NU shares a common hurdle with their Men’s Basketball team. I think everyone can remember Bobby Park Jr.’s last run with NU. That team melted under UST’s intense defense and, most of all, UST’s insanely massive crowd. UST fans probably outnumbered NU fans that season 30:1, and that’s being modest.

The Lady Bulldogs seem to have the same problem. The Ateneo Women’s Volleyball crowd is composed of the wildest/most devoted fans in local sports (kinda like the Ginebra crowd- only replace grown-ass men with prepubescent girls), and they can really just grind on opponents who aren’t used to the sheer amount of fans. I don’t yet have the means to put this into solid numbers, but the number of aces Valdez gets in a game is greatly affected by the sheer terror inflected by legions of fans screaming at the top of their lungs right when the arena barker yells out Valdez’ name.

Against other teams last season, NU was clearly head and shoulders above the competition. This season, even with the loss of Dindin Santiago, NU is still a contender. They’re still teeming with firepower with veterans like Myla Pablo, and Rizza Mandapat manning the hitter positions. The key with them is if Ivy Perez can clean her game up in big games, in front of huge crowds- situations she’s struggled in historically. Perez is a gifted setter, with her height and uncanny ability to score off the second ball. But she just looked out of it in their first game, but there’s no time for her to lick her wounds as their next opponents, draws droves of people themselves. I guess the UAAP is just that way; there really is no rest for the weary.

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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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Football

Composed Ceres-Negros expels Shan United in shootout victory

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Photo from the-AFC.com

2017 AFC ASEAN Zone Champions Ceres-Negros banked on their poise and composure from the spot as they knocked out Myanmar’s Shan United via a 4-3 penalty shootout (1-1 after extra time) triumph, Tuesday evening at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Negrenses punched their ticket to Brisbane, Australia after emerging the better spotkick takers. Four Busmen were on target, while two of their Shan Warriors counterparts fluffed their lines.

The two domestic champions were inseparable after 120 minutes, with the hosts holding their own against the Philippine champions. Ceres-Negros looked the more dominant of the two teams. However, they couldn’t make the advantage count where it mattered, as they failed to breach the sturdy Shan United defense inside the first two regulation halves.

The visitors were visibly more comfortable in the first half, but with the scores staying level at the break, the less-fancied Myanmar champions eventually found their footing in the encounter. While there were several half-chances from either side to open the scoring, both defenses remained defiant en route to unwanted extra time.

“It was a tough game. We weren’t ready to play 120 minutes because we only had four training sessions before the game but everytime we wear this jersey, we represent Ceres, we represent Bacolod, we represent the Philippines, so we have to give our best,” Ceres’ defender Carli de Murga elaborated to the Inquirer after the match. The Asian Football season has yet to start, and with both teams not too busy with pre-season preparations, rust and fatigue in a demanding affair were evident.

Come extra time, Ceres-Negros took the initiative when Stephan Schröck’s deflected effort went past the helpless Thiha Si Thu just three minutes into the first half.

Nonetheless, the hosts refused to go down without a fight, and their resilience was rewarded later in the opening half. Substitute Patrick Asare found the back of the net to restore parity in Yangon.

Another 15 minutes of goalless action took place in the second half as both teams looked more cautious, perhaps with the collective aim of avoiding a costly error or two. Among all the chances, Schröck’s in the 114th minute may have proved to be the closest to changing the scores, as his attempt shaved the post.

Shan United took to the spot first, where Asare made his penalty attempt count. Nay Lin Tun also made his, but not before teammate Chizoba smashed his attempt over Toni Doblas’ goal.

While the hosts squandered a shot, the visitors remained calm in front of a hostile Myanmar crowd. De Murga, Schröck and Mike Ott nailed their turns, with Marañon also not missing a vital kick from 12 yards.

It set up William Biassi Nyakwe, the man credited with the own goal when he deflected Schröck’s opener, with the chance to prolong his team’s campaign in the AFC Champions League. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t atone for his earlier mistake, as his attempt soared high and wide — much to the delight of the visiting team from Bacolod, the Philippines.

The reward for Ceres-Negros is a trip to Queensland, Australia, where they will seek to do one better than compatriots Global-Cebu. The 2016 Philippine champions also played against the Brisbane Roar, who dealt them a staggering 6-0 hammering this time last year. The match will be held at the Suncorp Stadium on January 23.

As for Shan United, a spot in the AFC Cup Group Stage awaits them and they may not have seen the last of Ceres-Negros just yet. If the Negrenses lose to either Brisbane Roar or Tianjin Quanjian, they will be reacquainted with the Burmese champions in Group F.

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Basketball

Abu Tratter plans to work his way to 2023 by continuing to do ‘the dirty work’

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Abu Tratter may have missed the jersey-giving ceremony that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas held for the 23 for 2023 cadets last Monday but he made sure to help out when the current batch needed him the most.

After helping the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers win the Sinulog Cup in Cebu a week ago, the 6-foot-7 Filipino-American did not hesitate to heed Gilas’ call, as they were undermanned for their second session in preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“I think it’s just an honor to put on this jersey, to be able to represent our country, to possibly represent our country in the future. It’s an honor,” shared the Laguna-native.

The 25-year old, who just celebrated his birthday last January 9, admitted that he was in awe of the talent inside the Meralco Gym. Like a fan, he wanted to take a few photo ops with the senior team’s Gabe Norwood and June Mar Fajardo.

“Actually, at first I was just shocked to see June Mar and Gabe, just to be able to be in the midst of them,” gushed the former DLSU Green Archer, who will suit-up for Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League. “I even asked them for a picture, and hopefully they’ll still give me one.

“It’s just humbling, definitely.”

However, the work has only began for Tratter. With five years to go until the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the two-time UAAP champion plans to continue to do what he does best — be the same scrapper that he is and hopefully catch the eye of Gilas’ brass.

“I think just doing the dirty work, of course. Giving whatever the team needs, rebound or any steals, any thing a dirty player would need to pick up on,” he said.

“That’s how it is, garbage into gold. Get anything, sweep up anything and try to put it back.”

Moreover, he will continue answering the call when Gilas needs him, as he himself is learning a lot from being surrounded by the country’s topflight cagers.

“Whenever I can. I want to be able to absorb all the information coming from here and hopefully apply it in the D-League and hopefully apply it on future practices, future games.”

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2018 FIBA 3X3 World Cup

Terrence Romeo invited to join Pilipinas 3×3 for World Cup

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Stronger than ever

Scoring sensation Terrence Romeo has been invited by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to join the Philippine team in the upcoming FIBA 3X3 World Cup, according to Philippine Star columnist Quinito Henson.

Romeo, who is currently out due to a right knee injury, has been in rehabilitation and is expected to miss the entire Philippine Cup campaign of the Globalport Batang Pier and the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“Baka sa second conference na ko makabalik kasi talagang gusto ko malakas ako pagbalik ko,” the 25-year-old shared during Chooks-to-Go Live last January 2.

SBP Executive Director Sonny Barrios personally met with the 6-foot guard, inviting him to be part of the Philippine team.

Romeo has plenty of 3×3 basketball experience under his belt.

Back in 2014, Romeo was part of the Manila West 3×3 team during the Manila Masters. He was adjudged as the tournament Most Valuable Player.

The 2018 3X3 World Cup will take place from June 8-12 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

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NCAA

Red Spikers extinguish Blazers for second win

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Shaking off a forgettable outing against the Perpetual Help Altas last January 11, the San Beda College Red Spikers vented their ire on defending champions College of Saint Benilde Blazers in four sets, 25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 26-24, and claimed their second win of the season, Friday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

“Sabi ng coaches kalimutan na yung talo,” shared captain Lorenze Santos of what transpired after that match.

So, in this game, the San Beda team poured on what they worked hard for to regain momentum. “Binuhos po namin lahat ng ginawa namin sa training [ngayon].”

After tight starts in all the first two sets, the Mendiola-based side pulled away to register the seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Nonetheless, summoning the heart of a champion and led by seniors Isaah Arda and Jethro Orian, the reigning champions pulled off gritty runs to snag the third set and making a tussle of the fourth.

Ultimately, Adrian Viray virtually ended the match with a vicious serve, which the Blazers failed to convert.

The prolific outside hitter finished with 17 points, 11 coming from attacks and five off blocks. Former skipper Mark Encino also registered 17 markers.

The Red Spikers (2-1) will face the Mapua University, also at 2-1, on Friday, January 19.

Orian was such a presence at the net, ending up with 20 points for the Taft-based squad.

The defending champions Blazers (2-1) will try to bounce back later that day against San Sebastian College (0-3).

The Scores:

SBC 3 – Viray 17, Enciso 17, Santos 11, Patenio 7, Amagan 7, Desuyo 3, Zabala 0, Genobaten 0, Manliclic 0, Casin L.

CSB 1 – Orian 20, Arda 18, Bacani 6, Basilan 4, Bautista 4, Magsino 2, Martinez 0, Garcia 0, San Miguel 0, Saldavia 0, Dy L.

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