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UAAP Season 78 Men’s Volleyball: Starter Pack

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[nextpage title = “Opener”]

Since last year, there hasn’t been a month wherein there wasn’t a morsel of local volleyball. From pro leagues to beach volleyball circuits, voracious volley fans always had something to sink their teeth into.

But there really is nothing like UAAP Volleyball.

We’ve yearned for it so much that its mere schedule updates trend on Social Media almost everyday.

Luckily, the prestigious volleyball wars are right around the corner and, as always, we’re here to satiate your preview fix for the Men’s tournament.

Who are the contenders? Are we up for another all-blue affair?

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[nextpage title = “University of the East”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
University of the East Warriors

Best case scenario – The Warriors finally get a win, Edward Camposano doesn’t end up questioning his decision to stick with UE, and they play well enough for everyone to be optimistic about Season 79.

Worst case scenario – UE winds up winless, again. They have to spend money to give Camposano constant counselling or for someone to Jedi mind trick him out of misery.

Reasons for optimism – UE should not have gone winless last season. They took two matches to five sets only to fall late due to their errors.

Edward Camposano is sure to come back stronger from his rookie campaign after a stint with National U23 Team in Myanmar. In off-season tournaments, the former Junior’s MVP looked stronger and more comfortable in his team captain role.

Camposano will surely be a Top 5 Scorer and attacker.

Reasons for pessimism – They didn’t win a match in the biggest off-season tournament they joined – the Spiker’s Turf Collegiate Conference. Whether it was against fellow UAAP squads or champions of an unknown league, UE struggled.

Someone else needs to help Camposano with the scoring load or else they’re going to play like last season – predictable and overwhelmed.

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[nextpage title = “UP”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
University of the Philippines Maroons

Best case scenario – UP take advantage of an up-for-grabs fourth seed and finally remain consistent throughout a season. Their veterans lead them to their first Final Four appearance in half a decade.

Worst case scenario – Like every other year, the Maroons look good to start the season but somehow falter down the stretch. They again are in seventh place because they’re still better than UE.

Reasons for optimism – The Maroons’ core has been together for quite a while now; every year making incremental improvements but not enough to regain their lost glory. Their best options are heading into either their fifth or fourth season with the squad, and it’s high time they create buzz like their lady counterparts.

Open hitters Alfred Valbuena and Wendel Miguel remain the squad’s go-to-scorers, while former Best Blocker Evan Raymundo is looking to cap his career with a playoff run.

UP also added promising rookie opposite hitter Mark Millete to round out their squad.

Last season, they got a few surprise results, defeating FEU in four sets and even dragging a streaking Adamson squad to five sets. The Maroons sport a more complete lineup this year so they should get more close matches to swing into their favor.

Reasons for pessimism – At times, UP held their own offensively against top-tier teams last year. It was their defense and errors that cost them precious points in close sets.

In the Spikers’ Turf, errors were UP’s kryptonite. They often outperformed their foes in every skill but wound up surrendering a double-digit error deficit.

The root of this, mostly, is their ball control. Getting a good first touch is crucial to setting up a good offensive sequence. UP would often blow a reception, causing their setter to snuff the toss, leaving the spiker little with which to work.

Fundamental skills are generally easy to fix just through repetition. If UP fixes the little things, they may finally end a season higher than seventh.

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[nextpage title = “De La Salle University”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
De La Salle University Spikers

Best case scenario – DLSU make the Final Four for the first time since Sammy Acaylar left. Raymark Woo ends up being the missing link to their success, while La Salle’s other young pieces blossom into their new roles.

Worst case scenario – Chemistry issues again murk La Salle’s campaign as off-the-court squabbles evolve into on-the-court problems. With La Salle’s other programs putting in work, the Spikers again are the main reason DLSU just barely miss out on the General Championship.

Reasons for optimism – Season 78 will see the return of two of the most fascinating things about UAAP Volleyball – Raymark Woo and crowd barker Rolly Manlapas screaming “Raymark Woooooooooooo” every time the Spiker does something positive.

Woo missed the entirety of last season with an ACL tear. Without him, the Spikers looked lost, as even their chemistry went down the toilet. Players were being sat out and rumors spread of incomplete grades, making for an overall toxic environment.

Returning to the lineup in the Spikers’ Turf, Woo had not only brought his high-flying antics back but also provided a calm voice that brought his team together. The team played with a purpose and looked like they enjoyed playing together.

Woo’s fellow open hitter, Arjay Onia, was also a revelation in the off season, as the towering spiker consistently provided points when La Salle went to him. Setter Jeuhl Asia, middle blocker Ralph Calasin, and libero Jopet Movido also slipped into their starting roles almost seamlessly, filling in for the seniors that left.

If not for Raymark Woo’s freak ankle injury late in the season, La Salle might have made it into the Final Four of the Spikers’ Turf.

With a physically and mentally healthier squad, La Salle are a strong bet to make this season’s Final Four.

Reasons for pessimism – Although Woo showed flashes of his old self, he still couldn’t generate the kind of lift he had pre-ACL tear. He might need a game or two to get his explosiveness back.

La Salle took a lot of stronger teams to the limit in the off-season but stumbled late in sets – a recurring problem from last year.

Coach Ron Dulay wants to play at a faster pace with spikers flying around everywhere, but he needs his boys to stay locked in on ball control to set up the chaos he wants. How they rank in the receiving category may very well determine their season.

With a much more even field this year, La Salle can ill-afford to have the same chemistry issues from last year. This is their best chance to actually contribute to La Salle’s GC bid rather than dampening it.

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[nextpage title = “Far Eastern University”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
Far Eastern University Tamaraws

Best case scenario – FEU’s mix of veterans and rookies ratchet them up the standings. They evolve into something like the great teams of the past – a well-oiled machine with at least five attackers averaging more than double-digits. They make the Final Four, even snatching the third seed from favorites Adamson Falcons.

Worst case scenario – Their young core takes a while to adjust and, before they can string together enough wins, other teams have built a sizeable lead in the standings. They miss the Final Four for an unprecedented second straight season and consider another coaching realignment.

Reasons for optimism – FEU treated the Spikers Turf similarly to how their Men’s Basketball team treated the FilOil preseason tournament – like a lab for experimentation and exposure where wins were just bonuses.

Every game, they had a different starting six, with most of their veterans sitting out entire matches to make way for their rookies.

But you could tell when they wanted to win matches. Against a then-undefeated NU Bulldogs, FEU nearly scored an upset, playing just a few veterans against NU’s main rotation. In a do-or-die situation against the Mapua Cardinals, the Tams flourished and earned a spot in the second elimination round.

Coming into Season 78, FEU is an enigma, with no one really sure of how they’ll rotate their players.

For sure, team captain Greg Dolor will still be the team’s main offensive threat, but FEU might use him at a different position other than middle blocker, as they did in the Spikers’ Turf. Setter Ronchete Villegas was uncertain he would play this season but ended up making the final roster.

Rookie middle blockers Jeb Bugaoan and Peter Quiel added much-needed height in the middle, but they could end up on the bench early in the season since veteran Lucky Margate plays the same spot and often had carried FEU’s attack last season. Then they have a wealth of outside hitters to choose from: Joshua Barrica, Redi John Paler, Jude Garcia, and Franco Camcam.

This team is deep; they may be the only squad that can literally slot any combination of six and be effective.

Reasons for pessimism – Successful volleyball teams aren’t always deep, they have a consistent rotation of seven or eight players that play through the match.

FEU’s depth might slow their progress towards developing the tight core of players that consistently finishes sets.

They will also be looking to a lot of rookies to play pivotal roles, so an adjustment period early is inevitable.

On paper, FEU is a high-ceiling team that can potentially make the Top 3 and pull the rug from under a contender. They also have just as good a chance at missing the Final Four.

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[nextpage title = “Adamson University”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
Adamson University Falcons

Best case scenario – After years of scratching the surface, the Falcons break through and make the Finals, thwarting a much taller NU team just on pure desire and experience. Rence Melgar piles on two more digging and receiving awards while AdU’s main attackers – Michael Sudaria, Brian Saraza, and Dave Pletado – scatter in the Top 15 of the Best Scorers list.

Worst case scenario – Adamason’s lack of height and length remains their crutch and they struggle to match the improvement of other squads. Their veteran savvy allows them to limp into the Final Four for another early exit.

Reasons for optimism – The Falcons are one of the few teams that have retained their entire lineup from last season, with just a few rookie additions.

Adamson managed to go 6-1 to start last season but tailed off in the second round, even losing a pivotal match to FEU.

But that young team is another year wiser and picked up a few off-season championships to boost their confidence and late-game decision making.

The heart and soul of the squad is their setter-libero tandem of Nikko Ramirez and Rence Melgar. The pair have provided a consistent stream of good attacking opportunities which allowed Adamson to keep up with the taller players and brutally powerful hits on their fellow contenders.

Opposite hitter Michael Sudaria, high-flying middle blocker Dave Pletado, and open hitter Brian Saraza are all back again lead the Falcons’ attack. What these guys lack in height, they make up for in quickness and floor defense.

Season 78 is being hyped as Adamson’s best chance at entering the Finals, not only because they have retained much of their lineup, but also because NU lost almost their entire starting six. The Falcons might never get as good a chance.

Reasons for pessimism – Blocking is perhaps the most important skill in the fast-paced Men’s game, along with serving, as both skills allow great teams to build leads.

Aside from the lengthy arms of JC David and Pletado, Adamson has minimal height everywhere else. Opposing wing attackers will have a field day jumping over the Falcons’ outstretched arms and bombing their back line. Try as they may, there are just some balls that no amount of good form and positioning can save.

Their beach volleyball run had also been very telling, as Sudaria came into the tournament slow and out-of-shape, while Rence Melgar nearly didn’t compete after drama with the coaching staff saw him leave Adamson for a semester. They need all they can get from both these skippers and can ill-afford drama in their biggest season yet.

The Falcons need to play with more force and strike teams before they can hit back. A solid floor defense won’t suffice against teams like NU and Ateneo.

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[nextpage title = “University of Santo Tomas”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
University of Santo Tomas Tigers

Best case scenario – UST proves their doubters wrong and convincingly makes the Final Four. They produce another Alfafara-esque player and demolish pre-season expectations.

Worst case scenario – The Tigers miss their two top scorers sorely, as no one seems capable of absorbing the responsibility the pair have left. After just breaking their run of futility last season, they again miss the Final Four.

Reasons for optimism – UST is the second-most successful program in the UAAP for good reason – they recruit and develop talent consistently.

Their two leading scorers from last year, Mark Alfafara and Romnick Rico, have graduated, but Coach Odjie Mamon has fillers.

Beach volleyball veteran Kris Roy Guzman stepped up in key matches last season, while his partner Anthony Arbasto drew nothing but positivity from the coaching staff.

Setters Kerby Castillo and Timmy Tajanlangit took turns orchestrating offense, while starting middle blockers Patrick Balse and Jason Sarabia return to ward off attacks and kill a few quicks now and then.

Reasons for pessimism – Mark Alfafara wasn’t this website’s favorite volleyball subject for no reason. He was the first player to have won the MVP, Best Scorer, Best Attacker, Best Blocker, and Best Server awards in the span of his collegiate career. He also set the record for most points scored in a season in UAAP 76. He’s nearly irreplaceable.

At least for now, UST looks like they don’t have a high-percentage attacker yet. In Alfafara and Rico, they lost an average of 40 points per game, nearly half the points they averaged last season.

Can anybody on the UST roster come close to Mark Alfafara’s production?

[/nextpage]
[nextpage title = “National University”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
National University Bulldogs

Best case scenario – The young, towering pack of Bulldogs obliterate their foes at the net and keep a decent mark on both digging and receiving to take a Top Two seed. They avenge their seniors from last year and bring back the championship in a three-game Finals classic against Ateneo.

Worst case scenario – The Bulldogs are too young and stumble at the pressure of carrying on a tradition. They’re talented enough to make the Final Four but bow out in the first round against a veteran team.

Reasons for optimism – Rarely does a team lose seven seniors and remain just as deadly.

NU’s constant recruitment is paying off as they transition from the Peter Torres-Edwin Tolentino-Rueben Inaudito-Berlin Paglinawan era to the Bryan Bagunas-Kim Malabunga-Madz Gampong-Francis Saura chapter.

These sophomore Bulldogs are taller and arguably more athletic than their predecessors and, for a team that had six new starters, performed valiantly in the off-season, finishing second in the Spikers’ Turf and InterCol.

The only remaining piece from NU’s glory years, graduating setter Vince Mangulabnan is the team’s key player. Luckily, playing setter always entails at least a little bit of the leadership responsibilities, so having to carry an entire offense while vocally encouraging his teammates isn’t new to Mangulabnan, who hails from a long line of volleyball stars.

Reasons for pessimism – Like their predecessors, these Bulldogs also have a problem with getting down and getting first balls.

In the Spikers’ Turf, rookie libero Ricky Marcos did much of the dirty work of saving balls as his teammates lacked good form and lateral quickness.

NU had already faced Ateneo in the Spikers’ Turf and the Eagles exploited their weakness.

As physically-gifted as they are, NU are starting off from scratch with their fundamental skills.

NU will have matches where they give up a mountain of errors and struggle against opposing target serving. If these pups can persist, they’re the best bets to thwart Ateneo.

[/nextpage]
[nextpage title = “Ateneo”]

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UAAP Season 78 Men's Volleyball: Starter Pack
Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles

Best case scenario – Ateneo dominates everyone in just a handful of sets en route to a sweep of the entire tournament and a second straight championship.

Worst case scenario – They start the tournament like last year and surrender matches early in the season. They still make the Finals but somehow get outplayed and settles for second.

Reasons for optimism – Like the Lady Eagles, the best men’s player in the country wears Ateneo colors.

Marck Espejo hasn’t played a local tournament in college wherein he wasn’t named the MVP. The third year open hitter has no weaknesses and excels at whatever Coach Oliver Almadro challenges him to do. Espejo dominates a match as much as any single player can.

But the Blue Eagles don’t need him to consistently put up gaudy numbers, as the rest of the Eagles are more than capable.

Espejo’s batchmate, Ish Polvorosa, is already one of the best setters in the country, Ysay Marasigan plays the opposite as good as anyone in the league, while middle blockers Rex Intal and Josh Villnueva are both effective attackers and defenders. Ateneo even has the luxury to toggle between rookie Ron Medalla and sophomore Janjan Rivera to fill out the final hitter spot.

Almost everyone from the championship winning squad from last year is back. With Coach Almadro still at the helm, the Blue Eagles will always be focused and prepared to take on whatever their foes throw at them.

Reasons for pessimism – This title is Ateneo’s to lose.

If they still lose focus or have chemistry problems with the constant grinding Oliver Almadro does, then they have a deeper problem.

Quite simply, this Ateneo team is one of the best Men’s squads ever in local college sports history. And the rest of the UAAP are still reeling from last season.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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