Best of 2015: My picks for Best Filipino, international volleyball players and teams

So I’ve decided to do something different in this post. Instead of the usual gender separation, I will write my article based on significance this year. Take note that significance is different from achievements so this might not be a list you want to see if you’re a results/championship count/award count kind of guy/girl. But more or less, my list is kind of a mix of both.

2015 has been a very good for volleyball; both locally and in the international scene. In the international scene, we saw a lot of teams rise and a lot of underdog stories. We witnessed a lot of unpredictable things but we’ll talk about that in a bit. As for the local scene, I can maybe say that 2015 is the start of a golden era for Philippine Volleyball. We finally got to see our national teams play in major tournaments this year and we saw a lot of monster newbies and players who improved their game.

So just to have an overview, this blog segment will go like this:
Top 10 promising international players
Top 10 promising local players
Top 10 international players
Top 10 local players
Top 10 international teams
Top 10 local teams

Have fun reading!

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SWOT Analysis of UAAP Season 77 Women’s Volleyball

So we’re done with the 2nd round. Below are my SWOT analyses for every team in the 1st round of UAAP Women’s Volleyball. Enjoy!

UE (8th, 0-7)

STRENGTHS:
Coach and to be fair, their blocking really improved and in a way, their floor defense
WEAKNESSES:
Winning attitude, No leader, No offense, Setting
OPPORTUNITIES:
To be frank, they are out of the competition. I hope they will use this 2nd round to grow, to learn from opponents and to be better for next year. Likewise, the off-season should be a good time for them to get experience, get their selves exposed and to recruit better.
THREATS:
– None

UST (7th, 2-5)

STRENGTHS:
Blocking has always been the strength of Odjie Mamon’s system. Offense is loaded. You have Lastimosa, Rondina, Laure, Tunay, Meneses, De Leon.
WEAKNESSES:
Leadership, In-game Mentality, Teamwork, Consistency. Setting sometimes and floor defense.
OPPORTUNITIES:
Use their new found confidence. They still have a chance to make it to the Final Four, they just have to win like 5/7 of their 2nd round games to make it. Based on their 2nd round games, they can match up well, they just can’t match up well.
THREATS:
Of course, there are like 4 other teams in search of a Final Four berth so they need to work double time if they really want to make it. Peaking teams. Ateneo and La Salle.

FEU (6th, 3-4)

STRENGTHS:
Floor defense and offense. They have a lot of good attackers too; Basas, Pons, Palma, Casugod, Simborio.
WEAKNESSES:
Consistency, Leadership and In-game mentality. Yeah, consistency. They won against NU, had a close game with La Salle but then they lost to UST in 4 and to Adamson in 3.
OPPORTUNITIES:
Use their floor defense and blocking. Though they are at 6th, they are at par with 3 other teams so they just need to beat the other teams tied with them for them to enter the Final Four.
THREATS:
Peaking teams. If they won’t pick up their game and be consistent, it’s gonna be hard for them to catch up. Ateneo and La Salle.

Adamson (5th, 3-4)

STRENGTHS:
Strong start. Strong wingers (Paat, Villanueva and Galanza). Of course, their FLOOR DEFENSE has always been their strength. Resiliency.
WEAKNESSES:
Like the two teams mentioned above, consistency. They had good games before the year ended but when 2015 came in, they lost back to back. I don’t know if they are still in vacation mode but they need to start winning again.
OPPORTUNITIES:
Lucky for them, they are 3-4 and they are tied with 2 other teams so they can still catch up. They have good wingers, so they can use the three to dominate.
THREATS:
Peaking teams and since 5 of them are still in search of a Final Four berth, they need to win most, if not all of their games. Ateneo and La Salle.

UP (4th, 3-4)

STRENGTHS:
Good coach, Low-fast offense, floor defense, blocking, setting. Almost everything really. Offense is loaded as well in Angeli Araneta, Nicole Tiamzon, Yen Ilustre and Vina Alinas.
WEAKNESSES:
Experience. They have it all, just the end game composure of all the players.
OPPORTUNITIES:
If they can make it close with the strong teams, who knows, in the 2nd round they can win over them. Let’s see. They need to ride on with momentum and beat the other teams.
THREATS:
Kathy Bersola’s injury. Although they are at #4, it’s not a safe ranking since like I said, there are 5 teams chasing the Final Four berths so they need to double their effort in the 2nd round. Ateneo and La Salle.

NU (3rd, 4-3)

STRENGTHS:
Based on their first two games and the last two games, floor defense. Coach Roger Gorayeb and Jaja Santiago. They have a good coach and a milking cow. Aside from Jaja Santiago, they still have a Myla Pablo and promising new entries in the starting six.
WEAKNESSES:
Setting. Blocking is shaky. Let’s face it, they don’t have as much offense as compared to the other teams.
OPPORTUNITIES:
They’re solo 3rd and with a new system (which has been working so far), they can improve their win-loss record and maybe even beat one of the top two teams. Let’s see.
THREATS:
Peaking teams. Teams who almost defeated them in the 1st round. Teams who know how Coach Roger works his magic. Ateneo and La Salle.

La Salle (2nd, 6-1)

STRENGTHS:
Ara Galang, Ara Galang and Ara Galang. Coach Ramil. Blocking has always been their strength but serving really improved big time. Good bench players.
WEAKNESSES:
In a way, floor defense and a Marano-like leader. But they’re not as bad as compared to other teams. Predictable offense at times. Setter likes going to the wings.
OPPORTUNITIES:
They can use this 2nd round to improve their weaknesses and they can involve more players in their offense
THREATS:
Pressure to avenge, Pressure to stop a possible winning streak, Peaking teams or teams who are hungry for a Final Four berth. Ateneo.

Ateneo (1st, 7-0)

STRENGTHS:
Almost every skill. Alyssa Valdez. Denden Lazaro. Kiwi Ahomiro, Jia Morado. Bea De Leon. Ella De Jesus. Jho Maraguinot and Mich Morente. Happy, Unity and Heart Strong attitude.
WEAKNESSES:
Too much errors every game. Opposite position not as solid although not so much as a weakness. Blocking although not so much too based on their defensive patterns.
OPPORTUNITIES:
Lessen their errors, raise the level of play in the 2nd round
THREATS:
Pressure to maintain their winning streak. Peaking teams. La Salle.

Let’s hope the 2nd round will be even more exciting! Good Luck to all teams!

Best of 2014: My picks for Best Filipino Volleyball Players and Moments

MY TOP MEN’S VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS FOR 2014

1. Ran Abdilla (PLDT) – Amazing talent. Prolly the best men’s player in the country.

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2. Marck Espejo (Ateneo) – Rookie-MVP and still rockin it in 77. Great talent despite the young age.

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3. Howard Mojica (EAC/Cignal) – Amazing, Smart and Powerful

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4. Mark Alfafara (UST) – Prolific Scorer and never say die attitude

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5. Michael Sudaria (Adamson) – Small but terrible

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6. Ish Polvorosa (Ateneo) – Talented setter. Smart, fast and a great leader.

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7. JP Pareja (Ateneo) – Great leadership aside from his commendable talent in floor defense

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8. Peter Torres (NU) – Deadly running attack and has very good blocking

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9. Raymark Woo (La Salle) – Silent Assasin

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10. Vince Mangulabnan (NU) – Great setter

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11. Myco Antonio (Systema) – One of the most powerful lefties in the country

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12. Rence Melgar (Adamson) – Has great floor defense and a libero-leader too

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Best of 2014: My picks for Best International Volleyball Players and Moments

MY TOP MEN’S VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS FOR 2014 

1. Taylor Sander (USA/BYU) – Rookie-MVP in an international scene. Amazing leap and excellent volleyball IQ.

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2. Marius Wlazly (Poland) – Led the country for a world championship. Beat that.

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3. Ivan Zaytsev (Italy) – Italy’s own workhorse. Can score anywhere.

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4. Wallace De Souza (Brazil) – Still good despite the injury (also biased cause he’s my favorite)

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5. Ricardo Lucarelli (Brazil) – Most improved player

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6. Earvin Ngapeth (France) – Breakout year, definitely

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7. Seyed Mousavi (Iran) – 48 blocks in a world tournament. Beat that.

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8. Matthew Anderson (USA) – Still an amazing player no matter what and the heart and soul of USA

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9. Jenia Grebennikov (France) – Amazing libero! Brought the house down in the World championship!

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10. Mir Saeid Marouflakrani (Iran) – Amazing setter! Probably the best in the world right now.

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Best of 2014 TV Series Characters, Villains, Deaths and Moments

HEROES/PROTAGONISTS – 2014

Heroes

1. Annalise Keating of How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
2. Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones (HBO)
3. Olivia Pope of Scandal (ABC)
4. Norman Bates of Bates Motel (A&E)
5. Barry Allen of The Flash (The CW)
6. Jane Villanueva of Jane The Virgin (The CW)
7. Scott Mccall of Teen Wolf (MTV)
8. Oliver Queen of Arrow (The CW)
9. Phil Coulson of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
10. Emily Thorne of Revenge (ABC)
11. James Gordon of Gotham (FOX)
12. Callie Jacob of The Fosters (ABC Family)
13. Henry Morgan of Forever (ABC)
14. Walter O’Brien of Scorpion (CBS)

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First Impressions about this year’s UAAP teams

UE

UE seems disorganized but they are definitely playing better compared last year. They have better floor defense and blocking. Must have been jitters but they should avoid committing errors. Wasn’t able to feel Adorador and Alcayde unlike last year. Talent is there, it’s just a matter of communication and teamwork. X-Factors this weekend: Dawis and Baliton

UP

Still rebuilding but they really have a lot of potential. They were really scrappy but offense is lacking. Tiamzon needed support a while ago and others failed to deliver. Setting and floor defense improved. Hopefully, Bersola will have a better game and Araneta will play in the next one. Future looks bright for them. They have a chance of upsetting one of the top teams but let’s see. X-Factors this weekend: Tiamzon and Estranero

UST

Better movement. Blocking has improved a lot. They have better offensive options now especially with the entry of Rondina and Pacres. Floor defense is decent too. Setting is definitely better this year. I think UST has this sort of completeness. If they will play as a team in the coming games, who knows, they might dominate. X-Factors this weekend: Lastimosa and Laure

FEU

Great blocking and floor defense! Impressed at the scrappiness of this team. They are also complete in terms of hitting. Only problem this year is their setter. But if Papa manages to be more creative and connect more with her players, FEU can win a lot of games. Love the improvement of Casugod, Palma and Pons! I think they have a strong chance of making the Final Four. X-Factors this weekend: Palma and Casugod

AdU

Totally underestimated this team. They still have a fighting chance but they are not as complete as the past years. Offense revolves around Villanueva, Paat and Galanza. Floor defense is still there and blocking improved. They need to involve middles in terms of scoring. Shaky setting also which really made them predictable. X-Factors this weekend: Paat and Galanza

NU

Improved a lot this year. Better floor defense. Everyone’s really diving for the ball. Jaja Santiago is the new leader and she didn’t fail to deliver. Mandapat and Pablo are good supports. General is the most impressive. If they will play better and not be demoralized when they are down, I think they will still beat a lot of teams. They were just unfortunate since they had to face a really strong team in the opening game. X-Factors this weekend: Santiago and General

La Salle

I was surprised at first because La Salle is not as active in the court as before. Blocking is definitely there but floor defense isn’t. Galang needs more support aside from Cruz. Setting is a little slow but can be improved if they receive better. Middles were not utilized so I can’t say if Reyes or Dy improved or not. Cheng improved a lot and will be a good offensive option this season. Let’s see in the coming games how La Salle will play. X-Factors this weekend: Galang and Cruz

Ateneo

Played like a well-oiled machine this weekend. Everyone contributed. Floor defense and mean serving are still there, blocking improved a bit and they have more options now. Middles were not utilized much but setting was super commendable. Surprised with their improvement in Vertical leap and quickness. Amazing combination plays and movement in the court. Teamwork and happy playing were evident. There were less errors too unlike last year or in the past offseason games. If they will continue to play this way, they will dominate. X-Factors this weekend: Valdez, Morado, De Leon, Lazaro and De Jesus

It’s still the opening. A lot of things will definitely happen. These are just first looks. So don’t worry. 🙂

I totally underestimated Adamson.U

USA vs China Finals Preview (2014 FIVB World Championship)

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Alas, we’re down to the last two who survived a somewhat battle royale-like international volleyball competition. It has been a very good world cup and let’s hope the Finals tomorrow will be a blast.

But before we break down on USA and China, let’s have a run down on the performance of the other teams. Well, actually, It has been a mixed performance for almost all teams. There were surprising teams, emerging teams, dominating teams, bipolar teams and inconsistent teams but the games were really exciting this year. Dominican Republic was the team who shocked almost everyone after beating and challenging a lot of strong teams. Even the likes of Azerbaijan and Croatia had their share of upsets and surprising wins as well (although no one duplicated Chinese Taipei’s run in 2006 Haha). If there were teams who really did well, there were also teams who kind of disappointed a lot of fans (Sorry Japan, Russia, Serbia, Thailand and Turkey).  Thailand sent their Team B in this tournament, which was kind of disappointing and somewhat insulting to FIVB since they labeled this one as the organization’s most prestigious tournaments. I don’t know why Thailand prioritized Asian Games more, but I was disappointed cause they could’ve won games against strong teams. Japan, Serbia, Turkey and Russia were the inconsistent ones. It was disappointing cause they showed how they were able to match up with the strong teams…but also with the weaker teams. They could’ve made it to the next round if not for their inconsistencies. Russia was the most disappointing because they had Gamova, Kosheleva and Goncharova in one team and they were the defending champions but faulty substitutions and rotations by the coach cost them. Brazil and Italy dominated the whole tournament but failed to win the semis game. Well, these things happen so it wasn’t at all disappointing but it was frustrating since they really had hardcore line-ups and they were really one game away from making it to the Finals. And to be fair to China and USA, both teams did well in the Final Four. China and USA both had roller coaster seasons, although from the beginning, you knew they were somehow gonna win big games (but to be honest, I never really expected a USA vs China Finals Haha)

USA

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USA has always been known as an all around team. Although they commit a lot of errors, their floor and net defense have been the reasons why they won the last few games. The low-fast sets of Alisha Glass have also been big help to the team’s unpredictable offense. Of course, there’s also an added bonus if you have powerful hitters and servers such as Kim Hill, Jordan Larson, Kelly Murphy, Foluke Akinradewo and Christa Harmotto. Aside from these starters, you also have the likes of Nicole Fawcett, Rachel Adams and Kelsey Robinson. The offense of USA is actually as deep as their net and floor defense. Kayla Banwarth has really improved a lot as the team’s libero. She has been receiving and digging well. Just yesterday, she made Brazil’s attacks look like nothing. Christa Harmotto’s presence has also been a big factor for USA especially with her blocking (I mean, man, the girl once scored 12 blocks in one game). A USA championship will really be a big morale booster for the ones in the roster. There were doubts for the ones in the current line-up. Now is the right time to prove them wrong and to make a run for the red, white and blue nation.

Kimberly Hill of USA attacks

Player to watch out: Kim Hill is also emerging as one of USA’s main scorers. She improved her hitting by being more smart compared to the past years. If you would look at the past games, her scores are usually unchecked or undefended by the opponents.

If USA will continue their awesome defense and with unpredictable offense, they might just take this easily. But if they will commit a lot of errors, they will be in a lot of danger against a very young and eager China team.

CHINA

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China has been getting a lot of labels lately. Names like “team of the future”, “new Russia”, “emerging powerhouse” and I agree with all of them. Everyone knew this team had a lot of potential. When you look at their first six, you can easily say that five years from now, they could be dominating all tournaments. Height will be their advantage in the coming years especially since their first six is made up of 6’6, 6’7 and 6’5 players. The only problem with their game is their reception and digging. However, their blocking, serving and hitting are really to watch out for especially if you are into power and precision. The middle blockers Yuan Xinyue and Junjing Yang have lethal running attacks. The wingers Zhu Ting, Hui Ruoqi and Zeng Chunlei have also been explosive for China. Five years from now, this team’s gonna get even deadlier especially with the young roster they have. Imagine, the top scorers in their Final Four game against Italy are just 17 and 18 (Yuan Xinyue and Zhu Ting). China’s got a bright future but tomorrow will be the first step to their impending world dominance in world volleyball.

Italy Valentina Diouf and Italy Raphaela Folie block

Player to watch out: Zhu Ting has been leading the Chinese since Day 1. Her floor defense has improved a lot (in fact, she’s #1 in receiving) and her backrow attacks are now sharper.

In tomorrow’s Finals, they have nothing to lose and they have everything to gain. If they will have good floor defense tomorrow aside from their splendid blocking and hitting, they might just win it. Inexperience will either make or break them.

I just hope tomorrow’s Finals game will be a good one. I won’t mind a three set game as long as it’s exciting (as exciting as the USA vs Brazil semis) and I’d be happy if both teams will push it to the limit. Hoping there won’t be off games for all players so we can all witness a quality Finals match.

Just a reminder, the game is at 8:00 PM in Italy, 2:00 AM in Manila, 11:00 AM in LA, 3:00 PM in Sao Paolo, 2:00 PM in New York and 7:00 PM in London.

ENJOY!

Why Ateneo needs to be #2 in the V-League eliminations (instead of being #1)

So I’m assuming that most of you guys are not yet familiar with the V-League 1st conference format.

Basically it goes like this:
– Top 4 of Bracket A and Bracket B will advance and will form two new Brackets
– 1st and 3rd ranked teams of Bracket A and B will be together in a new bracket
– 2nd and 4th ranked teams of Bracket A and B will be together in a new bracket
– In the quarterfinals, teams who faced each other in the eliminations can’t face anymore and will have a carryover standing instead (example: Ateneo is #1, Arellano is #3. They will still be in the new bracket but they will not face anymore, instead, since Arellano defeated Ateneo, they will have a 1-0 standing even if Ateneo is the #1 seed. Obviously, Ateneo will have a 0-1 standing coming to the quarterfinals with their 5-set loss to Arellano)
– Top 2 of each new bracket will face in the Final Four

So, here’s why Ateneo needs to be #2 in Bracket A: Ateneo lost to Arellano. An Adamson win over Arellano will put them at #1 and Arellano at #3 and Arellano will have that 1-0 in the quarterfinals and Ateneo will have a 0-1. If that happens, Ateneo has to sweep all their remaining games and hope that Arellano will lose one game for them to at least force a playoff game.

Here’s the catch. If Ateneo gets bracketed with the #1 and #3 teams, there’s a big chance that Ateneo will face NU and FEU (assuming there are no upsets anymore in the other bracket). This might come at a disadvantage considering Ateneo has to win both games to move closer to the Final Four (But who am I kidding, Ateneo is kind of used to do or die games).

However, if Ateneo gets bracketed with the #2 and #4 teams, they will have a 1-0 standing (assuming they beat Benilde, which I think is most likely to be the one who will enter the Quarterfinals) and will face UST and San Sebastian (or even Davao if they surprise us all). And here’s another catch, assuming NU beats Arellano in the other bracket, Ateneo might even face Arellano for a revenge match in the Final Four, if they win over UST and the #4 seed of the other group (Davao/SanSebastian/Perpetual).

Of course, these are still pending upsets. So let’s see. The season is still long.

But here’s what Ateneo fans should wish for:

ARELLANO SHOULD BEAT ADAMSON for the #2 spot instead of the #1 spot.
At #1, we will be 0-1 in the quarterfinals. At #2, we will be 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

ARELLANO SHOULD BEAT ADAMSON. Lesser problems. Better chance.

Dream Fulfilled: Thoughts on Ateneo Lady Eagles’ championship

I don’t know where to begin. Everything seems like a dream. It took some time for me to realize that we are indeed the UAAP champions. I’ve waited so long for this and it came at the probably the most unexpected situation; the reason why the championship is I guess the sweetest in history and also the most talked about.

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How they rose

Being a fan of the team for 10 years is really something I’m proud of. I saw how this team rose from the ashes from their cellar-dwellar years and of course, their first championship ever. It was not easy being an Ateneo fan back then. When watching games, you’d only see like 10 other fans wearing blue or cheering for Ateneo. Others were either parents or family members of the Ateneo team. Well back then, Ateneo doesn’t really invest much on recruiting and they would just get players from either tryouts or those who would pass the ACET. So yeah, it was really hard to build a very competitive program back then. But when Tony Boy Liao came in, everything changed.

You see, volleyball is not a very famous sport for a male-dominated school like Ateneo. There are what we call stereotypes and other masculine what-nots whenever volleyball is being talked about. But, I’m amazed how the love for the sport grew for the Ateneo community. If back then, there would be like only 10 of us watching, this time, the whole university and the alumni are getting more involved. Back when I was in high school, I’m the only volleyball fan in our class in our second year but come third year, volleyball attracted my whole class (but also because beautiful girls Denise Tan and Rachel Anne Daquis were the stars of UAAP back then). It was in my senior year in high school (2007-08) when the sport picked up a lot of fans not only in my school but also in the country. It was so easy to watch UAAP volleyball back then because the games are in Blue Eagle Gym. We just have to ride one tricycle after school and we would be at the venue, not knowing we were watching would-be legendary players like Charo Soriano, Patti Taganas, Kara Acevedo, Ange Tabaquero, Ging Balse, Venus Bernal, Wendy Semana, Rachel Daquis, Maica Morada and many other more names. Who knew. That season, Ateneo made the Final Four the first time. And that season saw Ateneo beat La Salle the first time in history. It felt awesome but at the same time, it was somewhat expected knowing La Salle was rebuilding and is coming from a suspension. Only a few people were watching the game that time but Charo Soriano was the “Alyssa Valdez” that time. She would do everything for Ateneo but I consider her job much harder cause she is leading an Ateneo team that time which did not have much high school standouts and a team full of inexperienced players.

When they entered the Final Four, I told myself that this might just be the start of the rise. And yep, it was. The Fab Five entered the program. I knew they were something. I knew they would spark something for Ateneo. In Season 71, we weren’t really expecting anything but we were very happy with how they performed on the court. Gretchen Ho, Jem Ferrer, Fille Cainglet and Dzi Gervacio showed a lot of promise that time. They would force all teams to 5 sets, they would not win, but you’d just love how they fought for every point back then even it was the opponent’s home court (yes, FEU had games in their home turf back then). The next year opened a lot of doors for them. They beat a very tough UST team who eventually won the championship that year UST had the likes of Maizo, Dimaculangan, Tabaquero, Santiago, Ortiz and Banaticla that time. It was an amazing game and it went to 5 sets. Dzi Gervacio had 26 points that time and that kind of gave the Ateneo team some confidence for the season. They finished 3rd place but it wasn’t a sad one. It was the first Final Four for the Fab Five and they level up their play that time. The last two years before this year have been impressive too, but La Salle is just really too good. It was very sad to see Cainglet, Ho, Ferrer, Nacachi and Gervacio graduate but it served as a lesson for the volleyball program. I also loved how they sparked some attention for Philippine volleyball. It’s probably something that led to this year’s championship.

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No expectations

Yup. Aside from heart strong, “no expectations” was the most overused line of the season for Ateneo players and the fans. After losing the Fab Five to graduation and with a new coach and with injured players, you’d think Ateneo won’t fight or won’t have a very good season. It seemed like that in the opening game. But Ateneo won more games which led most fans to believe that there is still a chance. A chance to challenge higher ranked teams and to be able to somewhat impress more fans in the season. I don’t know if you guys remember but right after Ateneo won against I think FEU or Adamson in the first round, I tweeted something like, “Mukhang sila (Ateneo & La Salle) pa rin ang magkikita sa Finals.” I just saw something different from them in that game that’s why I was so impressed and I said that. I never thought it would happen.

Funny thing though is that when you watch Ateneo’s losses in the eliminations, one could easily say, “kaya pero kulang.” In that 2nd round game against NU, they were leading almost every set but NU would have this scoring spree whenever Dindin Santiago is at the back serving. But back then, you can tell that they can beat NU. Luckily, in that third set, they won but the misfortunes kept coming for Ateneo as Denden Lazaro got injured in the 4th set. Now what’s the significance of this game? I told my fellow diehards, I think this might be the start of their run for a title. And it was. After the game against NU, they won 8 straight games or 10/11 games.

And then the painful back to back lopsided losses to La Salle. Haters kept on bashing Ateneo because of the scores and how they were all playing in those games. True enough, they were different players in both games. I remember Jia Morado telling me that she was very overwhelmed with the big crowd, with La Salle and with the championship-like atmosphere of the game. As a rookie, I expected her to say that. There was this Ana Gopico injury. Just when Ateneo found a strong middle, and then poof, she got injured in the middle of the season. Some said it was over. Some even counted Ateneo out of the Final Four.

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The Cast

When Gopico was injured against UST, I was nervous. It’s hard losing your best middle blocker. This is where you should really appreciate Kiwi Ahomiro. The girl trained as an opposite all year but when Ana got injured, she played a different position, and for me, even did better in that position. It’s all about stepping up and Kiwi Ahomiro did just this. Maybe even more. If there was a Best Blocker or maybe even best middle in the Finals (no disrespect to Aby Marano and Mika Reyes), she could have won it with her high percentage in spiking and massive blocking. She averaged 5 blocks a game in the Finals. Impressive stats. And what’s even more delightful is the fact that she has two more playing years. The future is bright with this girl in the team.

Likewise, Michelle Morente has been a total surprise for Ateneo, especially in the 2nd round. She got her groove in that game against UST and from then on, she would be one of the most consistent players in the team. But aside from her skills, I think her spunk in the game is really a joy to watch. She’s energetic and she has this demeanor on the court where she means business but fun at the same time. I also like her “babawi ako” attitude. You can see it whenever she would get blocked or would have an error.

Julia Morado is just phenomenal. She’s the future of Philippine volleyball. Her setting is very good. I don’t know if you guys watch international volleyball but Julia Morado really plays a lot like Nootsara Tomkom, a 4-time world best setter. She does the low-fast play well and is very unpredictable. If she will develop her blocking and serving more, she would be a more awesome setter not only for Ateneo but for the Philippines. I also love the fact that she controls everything for Ateneo. She controls the pace and also the emotions of the girls by being their semi-leader. It’s not everyday you have a super rookie who acts like a team captain right away.

Denden Lazaro has been the lifeblood of Ateneo this year. Without her, I don’t know where Ateneo will be. She might not be the captain but her leadership is very evident in the Ateneo team. If you would see, she’d join Alyssa in pushing her teammates especially if the opponent is on a run. Remember Finals Game 2? Her injury somewhat demoralized the Ateneo team. They seemed lost and seemed like they don’t know what to do without Denden Lazaro. There is no denying that Denden Lazaro is slowly emerging as one of the country’s best liberos out there. Like what my Tito Noel Zarate said, this season saw her play better even against the likes of Lizlee Ann Gata and Jen Reyes.

Alyssa Valdez is already a great player. She has deadly spikes and mean serves but this season showcased her leadership skills and saw her improve in a lot of aspects. Her blocking, digging and receiving improved big time this year. I remember in one of the tweets back then that Alyssa Valdez was really training very hard to improve her floor defense. And she did. Watch the Finals series and see how her digs were very crucial, especially in Game 4 where the spikes of Galang and Marano seemed like nothing to her. Needless to say, she was Ateneo’s 2nd libero this season. Just when we thought she is already a great player, she keeps on improving in different things. Not to pressure her but I’m very excited how she will grow more as a player in her next two years in the UAAP. Likewise, when the Fab Five turned the team captain chores to her, I knew she would handle it well. Even back then, she showed signs of leadership and she deserves the MVP and Finals MVP a lot because of this.

Coach Tai. Where to begin. He came to Ateneo just as a consultant. His job was just really to train the Ateneo girls. I was even surprised before when he was listed as the coach. But more than his impressive credentials with the Thailand volleyball program, we saw more of his psychological approach to the game. It’s already given that he trains well but what’s more impressive is how he pushes the girls and how he keeps telling them to play with heart, to play happy and to play unity. Call it cheesy or what but it’s really these three things which made them win the title. They are faced with impossible situations but Coach Tai is always there to remind them to play with heart and to be happy in playing. I think there was never even a tad bit of pressure you would hear in his timeouts for Ateneo. His Japan rotation was also the lucky charm for Ateneo. I think this rotation is magical. When he changed to this rotation, they had a winning streak and even won the championship. Here’s to hoping that the rotation’s magic would still work in V-League and in the coming years. Haha.

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Euphoria

People are already talking about what might happen next season for Ateneo especially since Ateneo won’t really lose a key player to graduation. Coach Tai also said he’ll be back come come June. I won’t blame them. The girls are now the defending champions despite having a young line-up. I mean come on. It would be silly not to expect from some team who just won a championship with that kind of line-up. But of course, it’s also good to manage expectations. After all, we never expected any of this.

Even before the season started, I told myself, Season 77 is Ateneo’s year. I would have wanted them to at least get a lot of experience this year before their “title run” for next year. But damn, they overachieved like 100 times in a lot of ways already. Until now, I still can’t believe Ateneo won the championship. It’s just so surreal. I mean, yeah, I’ve been watching videos and all but there’s still this question, “Champion ba talaga?”. But like what others have been saying, the reason why this championship is so sweet is because of what they have to go through to win this thing. They won all of their do or die games. They defeated their elimination tormentors twice (NU) and thrice (La Salle). They really defied the odds. Even if you’re a diehard, the first thing that comes to mind is the word, IMPOSSIBLE. But they did the impossible, and that’s why this championship is oh-so-sweet! Reminds me so much of the Season 65 of the Blue Eagles (basketball).

I have this intense circle of friends. We have a private group on Facebook and ever since the first round we have been really talking about La Salle sweeping the eliminations…..but the thought of Ateneo winning the championship did not come until they had this mini-winning streak. I remember, I told my friend Amae that the championship would go to 4 games and Ateneo will win it in three sets. In fact, I even told Amae that after the game, the girls will go to the bonfire to celebrate their championship. I told this when Ateneo won Game 1 of the Final Four against NU. Want proof? I can printscreen our conversation. Haha. But I never thought that would come true. I mean, I was just kidding actually or maybe I said those things out of big trust and confidence with the team. I never really thought it would come true. So I was in awe how things went the way I said it.

Right after their last point, I was crying. 10 years of waiting is over. I was just so happy that time. It took some time for it to sink in. No one expected them to win it all and they had to go through a lot (twice to beat by NU, thrice to beat by La Salle) to win the championship.

It was a blessing by God and we can be thankful for a long time.

Years from now, people would be talking about this cinderella story. They would eventually share it to their kids and to their grandkids.

It’s really one of the sports stories ever.

It’s one for the ages.

I’m glad to have experienced it.

Thank you for those who believed!

Thank you Lady Eagles!

Thank you Coach Tai!

and most of all,

Thank you Lord!

Dream fulfilled

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