[nextpage title =”2014 UAAP VBall”]
With the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Season right around the corner, TBT’s resident volleyball junkie weeds through each team’s roster and tries his damn hardest to be as objective in categorizing each team in a series of articles. First up are the teams this writer would “not bet his 13th month pay on winning the title.”
The world of collegiate sports probably hides as much, if not more pork and fat than our local government; only the UAAP’s version of JLN hasn’t been unmasked yet. There is probably no other aspect of collegiate sports porkier than athlete recruitment. Really, there are a myriad of reasons why a certain high school prospect chooses to play for the college of his choice. Naming each of those reasons might bring out the conspiracy theorist in me, but in a nutshell, these are, I would say, the main things an athlete looks for in no particular order:
1. Playing time
2. Best chance at a title
3. Best chance at a quality education
4. Winning tradition and general fandom
My projected bottom two teams of this year’s Women’s Volleyball tourney have the same annual problem- they both can’t seem to attract enough talent to pull them up from the bottom of the standings and into the Final Four. Granted, recruiting players for a team will never be as easy as “maibaaaaaaaaaaaa, alis!” A team’s rebuilding effort has to bear fruit at some point. While one team seems to be headed in the right direction, I still wonder where the other is going.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title = “Lady Warriors”]
University of the East Lady Warriors
Best Case Scenario: (2-12) UE puts up an amazing fight against taller and more talent-laden teams, managing to nab a few sets against heavy favorites and actually beating unprepared foes, but still misses the Final Four.
Worst Case Scenario: (0-14) UE’s glaring lack of length and frontline firepower is simply too much and they fail to win a single game.
Perhaps, I may be too harsh when I say that it would be more prudent to count how many sets UE can win rather than to count how many games they can take. This team is just not that good. And with the rest of the UAAP schools running the barrel dry of talent, UE wasn’t able to get themselves a key high school prospect that could have moved the needle for them. Add to the fact that UE lost two of its most reliable scorers, as they played their last eligible year last year. Things are still looking bleak for the Lady Warriors.
Last year’s team captain, Faith Bulan was deadly at the service area and was a reliable scorer. While Madel Gavarra wasn’t exactly feared, she could still do some positive things on the floor. Now UE is without those players, and things are really up in the air with where their current lineup can take them this season- because if there was one thing the players were consistent at last season, it was at being inconsistent.
The problem here really boils down to getting incredibly gifted volleybelles in UE uniforms. The casual UAAP fan might not be able to name the last relevant player to come out of UE without resorting to Google. By all accounts, UE is a really good school with a history of taking good care of its athletes, but its Women’s Volleyball program is in dire need of the winning record that would attract a star caliber player. Take UE’s Men’s basketball program track record of producing high level talent and basketball titles. Players like the great Jawo, Allan Caidic, and Paul Lee have all come out of that program. Imagine if UE went all out on trying to recruit a basketball player, they could just have Jawo visit the home of their prospect and talk to the kid’s dad, and that kid would be automatically be hooked on going to UE. No local athlete has ever invoked as much intimidation and admiration among grown men like Robert Jaworski. The Women’s Volleyball team just doesn’t have that.
The fact that I just broke into a whole tangent about UE Basketball for a good 100 words shows that this is not a good sign for the Lady Warriors. There is that saying, “Bilog ang bola”, no one can deny sports of its dynamicity, but, in my opinion, Volleyball is the least forgiving to “tsamba” across all team sports. Fact is it’s going to be another rough year for UE.
Perhaps one day, UE Volleyball will be good enough to draw the amazingly ruckus crowds that their Men’s Basketball Team does. It’s a good thing that there is nothing but upside for our next team.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title = “Lady Maroons”]
University of the Philippines Lady Maroons
Best Case Scenario: (6-8) Kathy Bersola is a year ahead of her improvement arc, becoming the best middle blocker in the league and coming close to grabbing MVP. Jewel Lai proves to be a transcendent setter, nabs RoY honors and is in the top three for Best Setter consideration. Nicole Tiamzon and Angeli Araneta put up career numbers and the whole UP team just plain steps up and grabs unlikely wins from veteran opponents. Meanwhile, the UP grounds nearly get burnt to a crisp from all the bonfires they hold and Manong Isaw earns enough money from all the bonfires he caters to start his own nationwide chain of isaw stalls. UP makes the Final Four.
Worst Case Scenario: (2-14) Kathy Bersola is a year behind her projected improvement and just performs at an average level. UP’s rookie trio has a hard time adjusting to the stress of UAAP competition and UP level education. UP only gets wins against UE. The UP grounds remain intact.
I was discussing months ago with UP alumnus and fellow TBT writer, Max Gana about the constant hindrance for UP’s recruiting efforts, the Great Wall of UPCAT. The fact is no other college entrance exam gets the media coverage that the UPCAT does because it’s just that hard. UP will always have trouble finding enough young kids with the extraordinary mix of athletic brilliance and UPCAT-passer level intellect to lift their TV sports out of obscurity.
Consider this, the Lady Maroon’s most talented player, Kathy Bersola, wasn’t even recruited. Bersola was a walk-in tryout. During high school, Bersola played both basketball and volleyball for Makati Science High School, one of the most highly regarded secondary level academic institutions in the country, that is also famous for producing James Reed. UP basically stumbled into its best player. It’s safe to say that depending on walk-in tryouts to find budding stars like Bersola would not be the best way to build a team.
But things really started to turn around for the Lady Maroons upon Bersola’s arrival. Last season (Bersola’s second), UP won more games than they had the season before, even netting a surprising win over a loaded FEU squad. Coming into this season, Bersola looks like she’s in great shape, visibly trimming down and looking more agile in her off-season appearances. My money’s on Bersola defending her Best Blocker Award.
As good as Bersola can be, she can only take UP as far as her teammates allow her to. UP managed to recruit a trio of highly coveted rookies in setter Jewel Lai, libero Arielle Estranero, and opposite hitter Caryl Sandoval. Much has been said about the potential of 5’2’’ Jewel Lai and how she can be the next great setter and the offensive facilitator UP needs to trot out a well-balanced offense, but UAAP competition is a huge adjustment for all incoming athletes, especially for setters. Her lack of height might also make her too much of a liability when she rotates to the front this early in her career. Look for opponents to take advantage of this wrinkle. Estranero and Sandoval will most likely come off the bench for the team this season as UP does still have veteran options for their positions.
UP Coach, Jerry Yee, will undoubtedly have more options this season, with a deeper roster and a generally young squad he’ll have the chance to work with for the coming seasons. But aside from Bersola, UP still lacks the length and athleticism required to stop potent scorers at the net. UP might have to take a page off of Adamson’s book and compensate with zippy floor defense. Also, UP has to develop other offensive options to consistently net them the 25 points required to win sets. UP still does have girls like Araneta, Tiamzon, and Magtalas (last season’s setter), who had their share of good moments last season but, they will need to produce at a more consistent basis if UP wants to break into the Final Four.
My Best Case Scenario, mind you, involves everything, absolutely everything, going right for a team. Last season, it took Adamson just 6 wins to earn the right to a play-off for a spot on the step ladder and this was with one of the most loaded tournaments the UAAP has had in the past few seasons. Let’s say UP has its two games against UE as totally winnable, but who is UP beating for the other four wins? With the rest of the pack also adjusting from hefty losses to their starting rotations, it isn’t impossible for UP to come out as this season’s surprise team. But the truth always lies somewhere in the middle, so I would put my money on on UP winning four games this season.
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