After finally ending a three-season title drought in the UAAP, the National University Bulldogs are bent on staying on top of the men’s collegiate volleyball scene.
Even with their entire Season 80 starting rotation coming back to defend their title against a relatively weakened UAAP field, the Bulldogs also added several key pieces to further stock their coffers.
Among the newcomers, rookie Nico Almendras has made an immediate impact in the Bulldogs’ campaign in the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference.
The Bulldogs have been scorching their competition, going 4-0 en route to the top of the standings. Almendras has been equally incendiary, averaging 12 points per match on solid efficiency for someone getting their first taste of collegiate volleyball.
Still, both Almendras and the NU coaching staff know that his starting role is temporary.
Currently, the Batangas native is filling in for incoming fourth year winger James Natividad, who is in the PVL lineup, but is seeing less play due to his training for the UAAP Beach Volleyball tournament, where he and Bryan Bagunas are defending champs.
NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin lumps Almendras with what he calls his “second six”, which includes fellow rookie Joshua Retantar and transferee Edward Camposano, who is out due to a knee injury.
Still, the three-time champion mentor has high expectations for the six-foot-two open hitter.
“Siyempre, napakataas ng expectations ko diyan,” said Alinsunurin. “Nahihirapan sila sa transition sa high school to college kasi malayo talaga, pero pinipilit talaga namin makahabol sila sa team namin.”
For his part, Almendras knew he was going into a celebrated program with a deep lineup of veterans. It was one of the things that attracted him to Jhocson-based university.
“‘Di naman natin masasabi na madali lang ang pagpasok ng isang rookie sa (isang team) tulad ng NU kasi mahirap talaga, sobra. Pero kami naman mga bata, mga bago, ano lang, kami ‘yung may pagkakaisa lagi tapos may komunikasyon sa bawat isa,” said the 19-year old.
For now, Almendras wants to help the Bulldogs achieve history and earn their first PVL Collegiate title.
“[Gusto ko lang] magawa lahat ‘yung papagawa nila coach tapos ‘yung dating hindi namin nagagawa ngayon pagtungtong ko na dito magagawa ko na lahat kasi sobrang napaganda ng pinasukan kong school.”