With the talent they’ve had over the years, the University of Santo Tomas Tigresses should not have missed being in the Final Four for so long.
Last season, UST had almost ended their futility. After a roller-coaster elimination round, the Tigresses had two chances to secure a Final Four slot by the tail end of the tourney, but blew both and settled for another fifth-place finish.
The off-season brought major changes to the España-based sqaud. Kungfu Reyes took over head coaching duties for Odjie Mamon and, just last December, Season 77 team captain Pam Lastimosa suffered an ACL tear that will sideline her for the rest of Season 78.
Any sort of turnover could have easily derailed their delicate chemistry and focus. But new team captain, last season’s Rookie of the Year Ej Laure, is looking to spark a shift in culture.
The Tigresses usually have a senior as team captain. But when the upperclassmen showed a decline in performance while trying to lead the team, Reyes knew he had to adjust.
Reyes is familiar with Laure’s leadership style and calm demeanor, having coached her to a championship with the Junior Tigresses. But Reyes hasn’t just chosen Laure out of familiarity; she has also shown incremental improvement over the off-season.
“Siyempre sobrang saya ko na kahit isa ako sa mga bata sa team, nabigyan ako ni coach ng ganitong responsibility to lead the team. Ang laking motivation nito para sa akin,” said Laure.
When asked if there was any conflict with the seniors over the decision to make her captain, Laure assures that everyone has been really supportive.
“Ang sabi po nila coach, before pa ma-injure si Ate Pam (Lastimosa), gusto na nila na maiba ‘yung captain. Right now, lahat naman po ng teammates ko ay very supportive. Malaki po ‘yung mga naitutulong ng mga ate sa team sa akin sa pag-manage ng team,” Laure told. “Lahat po focused and determined na makabalik sa Final Four. Alam naming kailangan namin magtulungan.”
Playing for UST, Laure admits that there will always be pressure.
“May pressure naman po lagi kasi may tradition ang UST of success in volleyball. Lalo na po ngayong matagal na kaming wala sa Final Four, ang gusto lang namin makabalik doon para masuklian ‘yung suporta sa amin ng school and coaches.”
The Tigresses will open their season against the Adamson Lady Falcons tomorrow, 2 p.m. at the PhilSports Arena.