By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
IT will be an early “Battle of Katipunan” in UAAP Season 82 volleyball for the Ateneo Lady Eagles and University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons as they clash in a packed game date today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Set for 3:30 p.m., the battle between defending women’s champion Ateneo and UP is part of a four-game schedule for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines that will also see the schools’ men’s teams taking on one another in the 2 p.m. match and National University and University of Santo Tomas men’s and women’s teams playing in the morning.
The Lady Eagles are to begin their quest for back-to-back UAAP titles bannered by a team that is welcoming back familiar faces.
Jhoana Maraguinot, Jamie Lavitoria and Kat Tolentino are once again taking the taraflex floor for Ateneo as it goes for a fourth women’s volleyball crown.
Maraguinot is back in the Eagles’ nest to play in her final year of eligibility after not playing in Season 81 while Lavitoria also returns following her stint in the Philippine Super Liga last year.
Tolentino, for her part, initially revealed she was foregoing her final year in the UAAP after their title conquest last season but had a change of heart.
The three are counted on to help cushion the departure of the likes of Bea De Leon and Maddie Madayag to graduation and the sidelining of setter Deanna Wong because of injury (shin).
They will join a roster that also has libero Dani Ravena, setter Jaja Maraguinot, Jules Samonte, Vannie Gandler, Ponggay Gaston, Erika Raagas and rookie Faith Nisperos.
While confident with the team they have, Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro said having an injury-free season would go a long way for them and their quest to maintain their position on top of the heap in UAAP women’s volleyball.
“We are prepared to take on the challenge as defending champions. We have stepped up our preparation and we’re hoping for an injury-free season so we can pursue our mission better especially against a competitive field,” said Mr. Almadro in the lead-up.
For the Fighting Maroons, who decided to drop “Lady” in their moniker starting this season, the mission is to make another spirited run to make the playoffs after missing the Final Four bus in the last three years.
Back for one last ride for UP are seniors Isa Molde, Tots Carlos and Justine Dorog. They join forces with fellow veterans Marist Layug, Jessma Ramos and Rosie Rosier in trying to lead the Maroons to improve on their 6-8 record in Season 81 and hopefully earn a spot in the semifinals, something they have not experienced since Season 78.
Coach Godfrey Okumu shared that he is confident of the team they have but admits they have to go out on the floor with more consistency in play and mindset if they are to achieve their goals.
The Ateneo and UP men’s teams, meanwhile, enter Season 82 off third-place and last-place finishes, respectively, last year.
In the morning, the NU Bulldogs start their journey to win a third straight UAAP men’s title albeit sans top dog and Season 81 most valuable player Bryan Bagunas, who has graduated.
But despite that, coach Dante Alinsunurin expressed their readiness to once again defend their title.
“We’ve lost some key players from last season to graduation, including Bryan (Bagunas). But even before they graduated, we were already preparing. And we are ready to defend the title,” said Mr. Alinsunurin.
The Bulldogs play the UST Growling Tigers at 9 a.m.
Playing after at 10:30 a.m. are the NU and UST women’s teams.
The NU Lady Bulldogs finished sixth in Season 81 with a 4-10 card while the UST Golden Tigresses were losing finalists last year on the final season of league MVP Sisi Rondina.