The FEU Lady Tamaraws underwent a challenging, multi-year team building phase and en route to making the UAAP Final Four last season. Losing key players like libero Tin Agno and setter Yna Papa, they were pegged to likely take a step back this season.
However, given the level of play FEU’s returning players showed in their triumph over defending NCAA champs AU Lady Chiefs, the Lady Tams are very much in condition to return to the UAAP Final Four and even defend their Shakey’s V-League title.
Third-year open hitter, Bernadeth Pons sizzled for 21 points off 18 attacks and three block kills. What was more impressive was Pons renewed her attacking acumen. In years past, Pons often needed certain kind of sets to effectively deliver attacks. So far, in FEU’s first two games, Pons has shown incremental improvement; using her explosive leaping ability to find holes in the opposing defense while in mid-air. She has even sharpened her signature floating, down-the-line hit to be faster and less easy to read.
“Isa na kasi ako sa mga veterans sa team. Hindi na ako rookie, so kailangan isa na ako sa mga dapat maging example para sa team. Kailangan hindi na lang ako puro palo, kailangan may diskarte rin na makikita ng mga teammate ko tapos masusundan nila” Pons told the Tiebreaker Times after their Arellano win. “Masaya ako na maganda ‘yung nilaro ng team against sa malakas na kalaban tapos na-apply namin ‘yung mga tinuro ng mga coaches.“
Aside from Pons, FEU’s imposing middle blockers propelled their late season run in UAAP 77. The trio of giants in Remy Palma, Geneveve Casugod, and Jerrili Malabanan cannot be matched by most teams, giving FEU control of the net in most games. Palma notched 10 markers against AU while Casugod doled out five points in just two sets of action. Coming off a severe foot injury, Casugod was just glad that she’s back on the team, being able to contribute no matter how many minutes she’s given.
“Natapilok po kasi ako ng malala sa practice weeks before SVL. Grabe talaga ‘yung pag-maga ng paa ko so hindi talaga ako nakapagtraining ng dalawang linggo. Masakit pa rin siya pero tinatry ko na lang siya ilaro ngayon para lang mawala ‘yung takot ko na mangyari ulet yun kasi malala talaga,” the third year middle blocker said.
Casugod also shared that there isn’t any animosity between her and her two fellow middle blcokers despite them constantly shuffling and not getting consistent playing time. In fact, she’s more excited about the continued improvement of Malabanan and the imposing option of having her play as an open hitter to really beef up the FEU’s rotations height. “Sobrang close po kai ni Jerrili (Malabanan). Kapag po may tanong siya about volleyball at kung paano gawin ‘yng ibang bagay sa court, sinasagot ko naman po… Maganda po ‘yung lineup namin kapag nasa open si Jerrili. Lumalakas ‘yung blocking namin saka paunti-unti na po gumagaling si Jerrili sa back floor defense,” Casugod remarked.
Filling in the gap left by Agno is returning defensive specialist turned libero, Kyla Atienza who showed that despite she is still far from the lofty peak set by the Puto Queen, she can do most of the libero’s work just as consistently well.
Finding a replacement for Yna Papa might be a bit more challenging for coach Shaq and his staff. However, Delos Santos says that he sees a lot of potential in Kyle Negrito; if only she could find the confidence to perform during games. “Maganda ‘yung pinapakita ni Kyle kapag practice. Mas marami siyang nagagawa. Pero pag dating ng game, may pressure kasi kaya hindi niya naipapakita ‘yung buong potential niya. ‘Yun na lang siguro ‘yung kailangan, ‘yung mabigyan siya ng confidence,” the FEU mentor quipped in the post-game press conference.
FEU seemed to have found a way to remedy their lack of experience even before the season, enlisting the services of National Team veteran, Jovelyn Gonzaga to hopefully mentor their younger spikers. So far, his players have been receptive to the Bionic Gwapa’s mentoring.
“Marami nang naituro sa akin si Ate Jov,” answered Pons when asked about the Army spiker. “As a spiker naituro niya sa akin na gawan ng paraan kahit anong set pa ‘yung ibigay sa akin, na hindi lang mamigay ng free ball. Tapos iba rin pag si Ate Jov ‘yung nag-eencourage sayo pag nagkakamali ka.”
Next week, FEU faces the winless PUP Lady Radicals then they face two fellow UAAP teams, UP and NU, to close out their elimination round. The Lady Tams acknowledge that their last two weeks of competition will be helpful in measuring how far they’ve come as a group.
“Siyempre excited kami makalaban ‘yung kapwa namin UAAP team kasi iba talaga ‘yung competetion sa UAAP. Maganda ‘yun para ma-experience din ng mga rookies ‘yung labanan sa UAAP,” Pons closed.