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UAAP Season 77 Women’s Volleyball Primer: The Favorites

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[nextpage title = “The Favorites”]

With the UAAP Women’s volleyball tournament right around the corner, our resident Volleyball junkie predicts this season to be as nail bitingly exciting as the last one, complete with all new heroines and downers, social media controversies, and plot twists that have made following UAAP Women’s volleyball so addicting. But he ultimately believes we’re still going to witness another epic La Salle vs Ateneo finals.

Ateneo’s championship run last season was solid proof that though recruitment might be the determining factor in any program’s chances at success, there’s a lot more that goes into winning a title. Flashback to the start of last season, Ateneo lost all but three of its main rotation players and was under the mentorship of a new coach who could barely speak English. They basically had to fill the holes in their rotation with rookies and unproven commodities they had stashed on the bench, eventually having to deal with the loss of prized rookie, Ana Gopico due to an ACL tear.

Meanwhile, DLSU tore through everyone it crossed, going 14-0. The Lady Spikers looked invincible in the elimination round, forging one of the most balanced attacks in league history. Their perfect record entailed a thrice-to-beat advantage and an express ticket to the Finals.

So while DLSU spent those more than two weeks before the Finals practicing in its quiet facility, Ateneo fought through three straight do-or-die games, like Bride in those Kill Bill films going after her past assassins, then finally getting to Bill near the end of the film. Alyssa Valdez and her BFFs took down an Adamson team with Bang Pineda (which culminated in an iconic hug between Valdez and Pineda after the game. It was kind of like Valdez had just put the finishing stab to her prey and she wanted to close its still open eyes), then handily took care of a twice-to-beat NU side that featured the Santiago Towers.

By the time the Finals came, Ateneo had built enough steam behind their Heart strong machination that they quite simply outclassed La Salle. Though most people in the organization will never admit it, the time away from a ruckus UAAP setting really affected La Salle while Ateneo was born in it, already molded by it, and didn’t feel comfortable until they won the title. I will never concede that Ateneo had a better team on paper than DLSU last season, but I will say that Ateneo had all the breaks falling its way, and was deadly decisive in taking advantage of each and everyone of them.

Though other teams have tried their mightiest, I don’t see any of them having enough talent to take the spotlight from either of these teams. Now, let’s go over what the key questions will be for both teams to address this season.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title = “Lady Eagles”]

How much should Ateneo change its rotation to accommodate its newly recruited blue-chippers?

I admittedly have never seen or been to an Ateneo recruiting visit, but I guess they must go something like this:

I mean, they basically cleaned the market on high-ceiling middle blockers this season with Bea De Leon, Maddie Madayag, and Therese Gaston. The addition of these girls suddenly makes Ateneo the tallest team in the league, but Ateneo found a great combo in veterans in Aerieal Patnongon and Amy Ahomiro taking turns patrolling the net, especially the lefty Kiwi who dominated her matchup against Mika Reyes in the Finals. Coach Thai definitely has a multitude of options for his lineup this season, but that would mean displacing several parts that won them the title last season. Ahomiro played opposite before she made the transition to middle blocker last season and could take over that spot, but that would mean displacing either Mich Morente or Ella De Jesus out of the main rotation. Maybe Coach Thai has already groomed one of the three rookies to play another position on the floor. Needless to say, having too many options is better than not having them at all.

admu_rookielastyear_morado copy

How good is Alyssa Valdez?

Rhetorical question. Should that question even be asked? I guess I just needed a good enough entry point to talk about Baldo.

If you were to ask me to pick any local college athlete right now to start a school sports program with, I’m picking Valdez. She might already be the most devastating offensive weapon in the country, and she’s still in college. For a certain stretch in their most recent stint in the Shakey’s V-League, Valdez averaged 27.7 points a game in the second round. She carried Ateneo to wins over semi-pro teams like Cagayan Valley, who basically had a team of past UAAP All-Stars (UST’s Aiza Maizo and Rhea Dimaculangan, FEU’s Rose Marie Vargas and Wyneth Eulalio, and AdU’s Pau Soriano and Bang Pineda). Valdez has come a long way in her reception ability and has blossomed into the exact type of leader her teammates need to lead them through sticky situations.

admu_valdez_ateneojersey2 copy

So, is there really anything we need to question about Baldo? Well, I guess she must be really tired. From participating in the V-League, to the UAAP Beach Volleyball tournament, which she sat out due to coughs (you should’ve seen the crowds she drew to Caloocan- though she didn’t play, it must’ve been exhausting having to deal with all the people hounding her), to the multiple other appearances outside of volleyball, to her studies, man, does she have a lot to do. Valdez, in years before, has had several cases of cramps, especially on games that go deep into the fourth or fifth set. Can Ateneo afford to manage her minutes to keep her fresh for the entire season? Well, I can guarantee one thing, Ateneo will hand out more straight set whoppings this season which should bode well for Baldo’s stamina.

How much of a factor is Ateneo’s crowd?

A friend from Adamson’s drum line, AUDYO, answered quite eloquently after a game between Adamson and Ateneo last season in the San Juan Arena:

“Parang Adamson versus San Juan Arena lang noh?”

He’s right. After asking several players about this also, they’ve all told me that it’s impossible to ignore such a ruckus crowd and just focus on the task at hand. Make no doubt about it, the Ateneo crowds are some of the wildest and most blindly supportive fans in local sports. Just check out the hordes of people waiting outside the venue after games just to snap pics with the players.

This is a distinct advantage for Ateneo as this is routine for them already. It visibly doesn’t faze them as much as it does to the other team especially when the crowd goes extra wild during clutch moments of the game.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title = “Lady Spikers”]

How much does the loss of Captain Aby affect DLSU?

Really, there is no bigger question for DLSU this season. We’re talking about a former MVP, Best Blocker, the team’s captain for the past two seasons, and a DLSU legend. You might be saying, “But she’s just one player, surely La Salle won’t miss her that much?”

dlsu_marano_lastgame copy

You might be correct if you base it on the numbers she put up last season, as those pale in comparison to the key players other teams lost this season. But watch any La Salle game for the past two seasons and you’ll understand why. Watch Aby closely as she wilds out after a terrific play her teammate makes or after a solid block that sends the ball back to her opponents face. Google Aby Maraño, and look at her iconic game pictures; the one where she’s running around the court pointing to the crowd after a spike, or the one where she almost crashed to the side railings of the MoA Arena just to keep the ball alive, or just the ones where she’s egging her teammates on while emphatically clapping her hands.

Notice how in each game, Maraño drew most of the camera shots with her celebrations. That’s what Aby was- a magnet. She drew so much attention towards herself that her teammates were more free to do things around the court. We barely noticed when someone else was underperforming because we were too busy looking at Aby celebrating and motivating her teammates like a mad woman. She took so much criticism herself and away from her teammates, that we barely noticed that someone else was struggling.

This is where Aby and Aly are the best at. They’re so good at being themselves, that they took away so much unwanted attention from their teammates, that their teams are just smoother as a whole. But for the record, I’d still pick Aby over Aly, just because I think I’d enjoy being best friends with Aby Maraño, the volleyball captain more. Imagine you just saw your grades and you failed during the prelims and your best friend, Aby Maraño, volleyball captain approaches you in the hallway and lets out her patented “BAWI TAYO! BAWI!” scream then clap in your face. Then you ace your midterms, and Aby Maraño, volleyball captain, lets out her loud signature “Woooooooo!”, gives you double high fives and hugs you. Forget being best friends, I’d want her to be the team captain of my life. I think the world would be less depressed if everyone had their own personal Aby captaining their lives.

How will they react to being the underdogs this season?

The Lady Spikers will find themselves in unfamiliar territory this season as they are no longer the lengthiest and most feared team this season, though they do still have a lot of their veterans returning. DLSU used to have this veil of dominance around them that they just kept winning close games just on sheer confidence, but this season teams might not be as tentative against La Salle.

Reyes

But losing last season might just be a blessing in disguise for DLSU as they no longer have the pressure of being perfect throughout the season, as well as the additional weight of winning consecutive titles on their shoulders. We might see a much looser Ara Galang and Kim Fajardo, which could be deadly for opponents. Mika Reyes has always been a shining example of confidence on the court up until the Finals last year where she had moments of unusual vulnerability. But Mika should be back to her trash talking ways this season as well as the always cool Cyd Demecillo and Wensh Tiu. People might be back to tagging them as favorites when they dominate their first few opponents.

So Migs, who’s winning it all this season?

I would say teams in the middle of the pack will most likely be duking it out tightly for the bottom two seeds in the Final Four because Ateneo and DLSU are just too good. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these teams would sweep the elimination rounds or they can even both go 13-1 with their solitary loss against each other.

It’s going to basically come down to who transitions into their new identities this season. Ateneo still has the major chunk of its championship team coming back while DLSU has a hungry team of vets out for revenge, but is looking to a new on court leader. DLSU might still have a few tricks up its sleeve as to who it’ll field in Aby’s spot as Coach Ramil has always been really good in plugging the gaps left by his players who’ve graduated.

It might be too early to tell, but if you point a gun to my head right now and made me choose the champs this season, I’d first have to ask you why you’re threatening my life for such a trivial thing. Then I’d choose Ateneo winning over DLSU, 2-1. But hey, There’s a reason for why we play the games.

UAAP SEASON 77 WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL PRIMERS


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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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2 Comments
  • Cezmagnifique

    What happened to ADMU was not just pure luck. They won because of determination and strong will to succeed and they did it. But DLSU’s hunger to win the title back is very visible.I guess they will give up a good fight this season and will eventually win the crown back to taft.

    • maverick

      It would be too simplistic to say Ateneo won last year because of breaks or that DLSU lost because of the long break. For a 3x to beat to be beaten 3x and with a 3-0 set sweep at that in the last game, there must be a better explanation. I believe it was the success of the low-fast set play vs the traditional slow/deliberate play.

Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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