REIGNING queen De La Salle University (DLSU) and long-time king National University (NU) begin their title defense against separate counterparts in an explosive opening weekend of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 86 volleyball tournaments at the Mall of Asia Arena.

De La Salle tests the mettle of Adamson University at 4 p.m. on Saturday for the women’s first salvo followed by a rematch in the men’s division between three-time champion NU and runner-up University of Santo Tomas (UST) at 12 noon on Sunday as per the full first-round schedule released by the league.

Both DLSU and NU ruled the women’s and women’s tournaments last edition by sweeping NU and UST in the finals, respectively. Joining the La Salle-Adamson tilt on the much-awaited opening day are the new-look Ateneo de Manila University and University of the East squads under new head coaches in their battle at 2 p.m. The men’s counterparts of four squads will also plunge into action in the morning matches.

For Sunday’s bill, rivals NU and UST will also collide in the women’s play at 4 p.m. after the 2 p.m. duel between Far Eastern University and the University of the Philippines. Before that are games between their men’s teams.

The opening weekend will feature a bevy of new coaches led by Adamson’s JP Yude, who came off a historic and perfect championship run with the Lady Baby Falcons in the girls’ volleyball.

Oliver Almadro, now with UP after a long stint with Ateneo, NU’s Norman Miguel, Manolo Refugia (FEU), Jerry Yee (UE) and Brazilian Sergio Veloso (Ateneo) in the women’s division will also make their debuts. Other key match-ups in Round 1 feature a rematch on March 16 between La Salle and former champion NU after taking turns at winning the UAAP women’s crowns in the past two seasons.

That gigantic battle will mark another anticipated fiery exchange between young stars NU’s Bella Belen and La Salle’s Angel Canino, who were hailed as the Rookie-Most Valuable Players in the last two seasons.

The Blue Eagles, with Mr. Veloso on deck, meet their former mentor Mr. Almadro and the Fighting Maroons on Feb. 28 as the Lady Warriors, now with former Adamson Mr. Yee, take on Mr. Yude and the Lady Falcons on March 3.

De La Salle is still under the tutelage of legendary mentor Ramil de Jesus as seasoned tactician “Kungfu” Reyes handles UST as the only coaches staying with their respective teams this season. — John Bryan Ulanday