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Under Strong Group, But Fierce Rivals: Yee’s Benilde, Almadro’s Letran set for NCAA Finals showdown


Beginning on Sunday, two schools from the National Collegiate Athletic Association of the Philippines will take centerstage in the epitome of a clash between the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

Two-time defending champion College of Saint Benilde will take on the surprising challenger Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the best-of-three Season 99 Women’s Volleyball Finals at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.

The first serve is at 2:00 PM.

The Lady Blazers and the Lady Knights have followed different paths to the big dance.

St. Benilde swept its way to a third straight Finals. In fact, they will be entering the championship round armed with a 38-game winning streak.

But for decorated head coach Jerry Yee, stats are thrown out the window in the Finals.

UAAP86-Womens-Volleyball-Jerry-Yee Under Strong Group, But Fierce Rivals: Yee's Benilde, Almadro's Letran set for NCAA Finals showdown CSB CSJL NCAA News Volleyball  - philippine sports news

“Expectations aside, all teams are on equal footing when they get to the Finals. Both teams have to execute their plans and strategies come game time,” said Yee, whose Lady Blazers also defeated the Lady Knights in their elimination round encounter last April 21, 25-18, 25-21, 25-19.

On the other hand, the Lady Knights are making their first Finals appearance in 12 years. Needing a reboot after finishing in fifth place a season ago, Letran tapped one of its own to kickstart a new program.

Enter four-time UAAP champion coach Oliver Almadro.

Under Almadro’s watch, Letran finished the elimination round with a 7-2 record – their other loss coming in a shocking four-set defeat at the hands of Mapua, 25-19, 25-22, 21-25, 27-25.

In the stepladder semis, the Lady Knights had to avert a meltdown against the Lyceum Lady Pirates, escaping with a 25-15, 25-21, 19-25, 19-25, 15-11 victory.

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The joy of steering his alma mater was palpable for Almadro.

UAAP86-WVB-Oliver-Almadro-00834 Under Strong Group, But Fierce Rivals: Yee's Benilde, Almadro's Letran set for NCAA Finals showdown CSB CSJL NCAA News Volleyball  - philippine sports news

(C) Yvan Martinez/UAAP Season 86 Media Team

“I am not the only one excited; the whole community of Colegio de San Juan de Letran shares this excitement. It’s been a while since the school qualified for the Finals,” said Almadro.

“We are so blessed to have reached this far in NCAA Season 99, thanks to the faith, discipline, and determination of the players who embraced the system and their eagerness to learn.”

Though opponents on the court, the two squads share a common denominator – the backing of Strong Group Athletics.

At the collegiate level, it’s unheard of for two different colleges to be backed by the same booster.

But there is a need for it, according to Yee.

“A lot of programs in the NCAA are not as well supported as those in the other league (UAAP). Some teams only have scholarships to offer,” shared Yee, who also handles the UAAP’s University of the East.

“We know that to maintain a proper program, dorms, proper meals, and even some allowances are needed because college expenses are high. Strong Group’s support provides or covers at least the basics, like proper meals and some allowances.”

Under Strong Group, the Lady Blazers have been able to maintain a stable calendar heading into the NCAA proper.

The likes of Gayle Pascual, Jessa Dorog, Clo Mondoñedo, Zam Nolasco, Jade Gentapa, and Camill Avila were able to play in the Premier Volleyball League under the Farm Fresh banner as part of their preseason buildup.

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They also joined the V-League Collegiate Challenge, the Shakey’s Super League, and the Philippine National Volleyball Federation Challenge Cup – winning both the V-League and PNVF tournaments.

On the other hand, Almadro’s program got proper seeding thanks to Strong Group.

During the same PNVF tournament, the Lady Knights placed third while his University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons placed second, completing a Strong Group podium sweep of the event.

“Strong Group’s support in our campaign this year is one of the best things that has happened to the volleyball program of Letran since we last qualified for the Final Four. They have also been instrumental in my return to Letran,” expressed Almadro, noting that Judiel Nitura, Gia Maquilang, Yen Martin, and Lara Mae Silva would not have the confidence they have today without their intensive preseason training.

Though under one banner, both Yee and Almadro assured that all gloves would be off come the Finals.

“We will bring out the best in each other,” said the soft-spoken Yee.

“That’s what Boss Frank (Lao) wants and that’s what the NCAA deserves.”

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