These past few years the UP Maroons have been consistently inconsistent. Since their last Final Four appearance in Season 73, the team has struggled to maintain their relevance despite their seemingly competitive lineup. There were high hopes for UP in the last UAAP Season, as they finished the first round with a 3-4 slate, but they stumbled to just a single win in the second round.
What resonates most about the last UAAP Season was the Maroons’ final match against La Salle. The match decided wether UP would improve on their second to the last finish the year before, or remain at the bottom of the standings for another year. In the match UP started slow, fighting back from a 0-2 deficit, eventually tying the match at 2-2 before falling in the fifth set.
Current Team Captain, Alfred Valbuena grudgingly remembers that game. He shared with Tiebreaker Times just how painful the loss was for the team.
“Na-sad kaming lahat. Kasi last game namin, tapos nandun nakabase yung ranking sa UAAP nun. Kung nanalo kami against La Salle 6th kami, pag natalo 7th. Eh malaking bagay yun for (morale) next season, na 6th place kami. Hindi kami kulelat na 7th place pa rin.”
Things seem to be shaping up for the team this year. They had an excellent outing in the recently concluded Philippine National Games (PNG) tournament, defeating Champion Infinity in the Finals to take home the crown.
Now, they have their sights set on the inaugural season of the Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference. They were impressive in their first two matches, defeating Arellano in the opening day of the tournament, then overcoming last year’s NCAA Finalist, CSB in four sets. Alfred shared that the desire to get back into the Final Four has been fuelling this UP team to succeed.
“Gusto talaga namin mag Final Four,” shared Alfred. “Yun yung motivation namin. Yung mga leagues namin sa nakaraan, doon kami nag focus. Doon namin binase kung gaano kami nag improve, kung nag gel kami as a team. Nakita naman namin nung PNG na effective yung training program ni coach. Yung mga bata tumutulong din sa amin.”
So what improvements has the team made since the UAAP season? The age old adage of “defense wins championships” appears to be on coach Melchor Santos’ mind as that has been the team’s focus in training.
“Skill-wise, nagka-depensa kami, kasi doon kami nag focus sa training. Offense naman kaya namin mag-sabayan. Yung laro ng volleyball kailangan ng depensahan, hindi ka mananalo kapag walang depensa. Doon muna kami nag-focus, lalo na sa blocking at floor defense.”
Of course, there are still many things that the team has to improve on, and Alfred understands that you don’t improve overnight, you have to constantly work on your game.
“Yung determination namin manalo pati yung enjoyment sa court. Yun talaga yung kulang namin dati, so ngayon binabago namin,” added Alfred. “Through time nagpro-progress naman, hindi kaagad-agad na isang snap mangyayari kaagad. Kailangan palaging makinig and stick sa plan ni coach. Kasi meron kaming pinag-usapan ni coach na plans sa defense and offense patterns. Dapat kami mag stick doon, kasi napansin namin kapag hindi nag-stick or nakinig kay coach, nawawala kami sa loob ng court. Yung hard work and communication din, pati confidence sa sarili.”
“We’re getting to where coach wants us to be. Every training namin ginagawa namin, six man defense, 3 man defense, 1 man defense. So nagagamay namin yung isa’t-isa sa loob ng court, yung positioning, pagpapalo, coverage, depensa naman pag papalo yung kalaban. Dapat lahat gumagalaw para walang mabutasan.”
Alfred hopes all the effort the team has put into training bears fruit. He’s tired of disappointing losses, and believes that it will all be worth it in the end.
“Papakita namin na worth it na matawag kami na University ng Pilipinas Mens Volleyball Team. Papakita namin na kaya namin mag Final Four ngayon through hard work and determination, di namin sila bibiguin.”