[nextpage title = “The Tigresses”]
Following the UAAP is often tasking with its headline events – basketball, volleyball, football – consuming months of our time, generating storylines that evolve and mature just as the athletes do.
But there is more to the UAAP than the grind of the basketball and volleyball season. The bulk of the Association is in the short events that litter the academic calendar, that sometimes go by unnoticed but offer instant, non-stop drama. For instance, last month the UAAP Beach Volleyball tournament swept through the Sands by the Bay and gave two teams – the Ateneo de Manila University’s Blue Eagles and De La Salle University’s Lady Spikers – their first beach volleyball titles in school history.
Migrating from the secluded campus of the University of the East Caloocan, the competition this season heated up with more spectators and wider coverage from the media. Yet there were still some stories buried in the ash white sand court that flesh out just how wonderful those six days in October were. But those stories don’t have to remain buried; the following is a recount of all the great stories you might have missed, starting with the women’s side.
What happened to the Tigresses?
The University of Santo Tomas flat-out dominated the competition last season. After claiming the Season 77 title, Cherry Rondina and Rica Rivera went on to win two more championships in the annual invitational events in Boracay and Bicol against tougher, more experienced foes. In the same events, they had beaten the pairs they would face in the UAAP this season, so a Rondina-Rivera repeat campaign seemed all but inevitable.
The trouble with these short tournaments, however, is that normally minor injuries cost athletes their entire season. Playing through abdominal pain through the first week of competition, Rivera struggled to move with her usual quickness. Although Rondina still had the same spunk and explosive athleticism, a beach volleyball pair is only as strong as its weakest link, and a hobbling Rivera made an easy target for opposing tandems.
Right off the bat, they dropped crucial matches against perennial Final Four contenders Adamson University and Far Eastern University. While they still blew away lesser opponents, they faced plenty of pressure in the competition’s second week as they squared up against a blistering Ateneo side and eventual champs DLSU.
To their credit, their final two matches showed why Rondina and Rivera are feared in the local circuit; they come together in pressure-packed situations in which most pairs would crumble. They doused the crowd favorites, Ateneo’s Bea Tan and Alyssa Valdez, in three thrilling sets. UST went into the match at the tail-end of the elimination round touting a similar 4-2 record as DLSU’s Kim Fajardo and Cyd Demecillo – the pair they defeated in last season’s finals – and performed valiantly early in the game.
With Rivera regaining her touch and attacking impressively, UST took the first set and had the lead late in the second set. Then a slew of questionable calls went DLSU’s way to the dismay of the Tigresses. The match could have ended in straight sets but DLSU forced a deuce and dragged the match into a third set. UST, however, didn’t relent in their attack, toughing out the final frame before succumbing to La Salle in another heated deuce. The defending champs fell out of the Final Four.
Rondina and Rivera lamented on their season after the match. “Sayang po talaga,” each said in their respective interviews.
“Siguro may mga bagay lang talaga na hindi pumabor sa amin, nasa sa amin na din po siguro na hindi kami nakapag-adjust agad kasi talagang nag-handa po ‘yung ibang team,” Rivera continued.
“Kaya naman po sana namin, maganda naman na ‘yung nilaro namin nitong mga huling araw. Talagang kinapos lang,” said Rondina who rued those controversial calls against La Salle which she viewed ultimately cost them their season. Luckily, the pair can take this setback as a lesson for incoming seasons, as they are just in their sophomore years.
As for playing in the indoor team this coming February, the pair mutually expressed a desire to participate with the rest of the Tigresses. However, they conceded that it is still up to both the coaching staff of the beach volleyball program and the indoor team if they’ll be included in UST’s final roster that should be finalized by December. Unlike other schools, UST has separate players and coaches for the beach and indoor volleyball.
Sidelined by an unfortunate injury, wherein she tore multiple ligaments in her right knee, before the start of the indoor tournament last year, Rivera hopes her performance on the sand courts could greatly help her bid for a spot on the UST roster. “Sobrang gusto ko na po makapaglaro sa indoor… gusto ko po ipakita na nakarecover na ako sa injury ko. Sobrang malas ko lang po talaga last year.”
NEXT PAGE: What about them Lady Tamaraws? >>
[nextpage title = “Lady Tamaraws”]
What about them Lady Tams?
For those who closely follow beach volleyball, the Lady Tams’ rise up the standings this season shouldn’t come as a surprise. Making the Final Four is an annual tradition for FEU, but this season saw them reach a level that they hadn’t hit since dominating the first few seasons of UAAP Beach Volleyball. Bernadette Pons and Kyla Atienza had been suiting up, este, swim-suiting up for FEU for the past three years but had only become the school’s main pair after the departure of Charm Simborio.
Aside from topping the elims with a 6-1 record, FEU were also the most entertaining pair in the tournament – and Atienza was the main supplier of their quirkiness. The libero of FEU’s indoor team, Atienza seemed an easy target for opponents, supposedly due to a lack of verticality and consistent scoring. But Atienza was no less than dazzling in how she found her points. The Laguna native took the efficient ball control expected of liberos and kicked it up a notch, dizzying opponents with first touch returns. No matter how hard the ball that came her way, Atienza bounced it back to the opponent’s court. She also unloaded mean jump serves, averaging four aces a match. A good stint from her at the service line swung momentum to their favor in crucial stages. Her brilliance was in full display in their two matches against Adamson’s Mylene Paat and Gemma Galanza, where she punished the Lady Falcons and powered her team from being the top seed then the Finals in back-to-back to matches.
Pons was equally brilliant; her athleticism unimpeded by the sand, she attacked off 1-2 plays, and a mix of floaters and power hits with ease. Pons carried much of the load in their Finals series against La Salle as the Lady Spikers had prepared for Atienza’s unorthodox attacks. Unfortunately they came up short, getting swept and going home with silver medals.
Still with two seasons remaining, both Pons and Atienza acknowledged that their runner-up finish only sets them up for brighter things in the future. “Marami pa po siguro talaga kaming ayusin sa ensayo,” Pons admitted. “Pero kung ngayon pa lang po naipakita na namin na kaya namin talunin ‘yung ibang malakas na team, magandang pangitain na siguro po sa amin ‘yun sa mga susunod na pagsali namin.”
NEXT PAGE: Valdez and Tan’s love of the beach >>
[nextpage title = “Lady Eagles”]
For the love of the beach
Although they didn’t make the Finals, the reunion of Ateneo’s Bea Tan and Alyssa Valdez definitely pushed the tournament’s popularity to near-mainstream levels. Crowds regularly flocked to the sand court, toughing out scorching heat and ravaging rains to cheer for Tan’s good serves or to Valdez’s appeal.
The pair played amazingly through the tournament until hitting speedbumps against rivals DLSU then the defending champs UST, which ultimately relegated them to third seed in the Final Four and on the wrong end of La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage. They forced the series to a deciding match but fell to a determined Fajardo and Demecillo.
Tan, after the series, conceded that she was mostly mentally hampered. Whether it was the pressure or the crowd, she couldn’t say for sure. “It was all mental. It really didn’t come down to who had better skills or what have you, it just came down to our mental lapses.”
A beach volleyball veteran, it is fair to say that Bea Tan had no lack in skill. As fleet-footed on sand as she was on Taraflex, Tan constantly made opponents pay for targeting her. Paired with the phenomenal Valdez, Tan’s performance often carried Ateneo to victories, while Valdez got her points when their foes unintentionally gave her a first touch.
Even if they never won any championships, both Valdez’s and Tan’s efforts have driven up the popularity of beach volleyball since they first played the sport in their rookie years. Tan is involved in the Beach Volleyball Republic, a local movement sparked by some of the most recognizable volleyball personalities in the archipelago that aims to promote beach volleyball not just as a sport but also a lifestyle.
“It’s amazing to see this many people come out to watch beach volleyball, hopefully it really does catch on here in the Philippines. Beach volleyball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. There are so many great beaches her in the Philippines and we really just see that as an opportunity to grow the sport here,” Valdez said
“To me beach volleyball is therapeutic. Sometimes I just come out here and play to get my mind off things. I’ve really fallen in love with the sport and it’s delightful to see the tournament gain this much support from everybody. Hopefully, a lot more people get into the sport as well after watching the great matches everybody put up over the course of these two weeks,” Tan expressed.
As for playing indoor volleyball in February, Tan remained uncommitted. “I really just wanted to come back to Ateneo and play beach volleyball. I really would love to play indoor, but it’s such a huge commitment with the long season and all the trainings. I don’t know yet. I’m going to talk to Coach Tai about it.”
NEXT PAGE: Fajardo and Demecillo flex their hearts >>
[nextpage title = “The Champions”]
Fajardo and Demecillo flex their hearts
Simultaneously playing in a beach volleyball tournament and a club league usually doesn’t bode well for any athlete, but DLSU’s Kim Fajardo and Cyd Demecillo are cut from championship cloth.
Much like the Tigresses, last season’s finalists dealt with early losses to Final Four contenders, Adamson and FEU, before bouncing back with a win against the Ateneo Lady Eagles.
Neither Fajardo nor Demecillo move like roadrunners through the sand, nor do they bounce off as if on trampolines. The La Sallians, however, proved they had the mental fortitude of soldiers. Out of all teams in the tournament, La Salle were the most consistent in executing their game plan: finding their target and frustrating her until she yields.
To avoid elimination, Fajardo and Demecillo toughed out three gut-wrenching sets against their tormentors last season, UST’s Rondina and Rivera. In the Final Four, DLSU ceremoniously ended Valdez’s and Tan’s beach volleyball career in a tight three-game series, with the deciding match going down as one the best played in the tournament’s history. With the odds favoring the young pair of Lady Tams in the Finals, the Lady Spikers swept through Pons and Atienza for their school’s first beach volleyball title.
Demecillo, who is playing out her final year of eligibility, savored the title that she and Kim had worked nearly two years to raise. “Sobrang sarap sa pakiramdam na nagbunga ‘yung paghihirap namin. Kahit mga apat na beses lang kami nag-training before the tournament, and then natatalo at naiinjure na kami noong simula nito, nag-tiyaga kami. Last year ko na rin to sa La Salle kaya gusto ko talaga makapagdala ng championship sa school,” the Cebuana said.
For Fajardo, the joy the championship brought washed over the heartbreaking Finals losses she and her team had gone through over the past two years. Even if she still has a year of eligibility left after this season, Fajardo revealed that she was retiring from beach volleyball. Before she left the sandcourts, Fajardo delivered a legendary quote:
“Siguro di na lang talaga pumasok sa isip ko ‘yung mga sakit ng katawan ko. Kapag athlete ka kasi, siguro ang pinakamalakas na muscle na kailangan mo ay puso.”
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