UAAP champion National University (NU) and NCAA titlist College of St. Benilde (CSB) headline the cast when the 2024 Shakey’s Super League (SSL) National Invitationals kick off Wednesday at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila.

A total of 12 teams from the UAAP, NCAA, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao comprise the field divided into four pools in a single-round eliminations with the top two teams advancing to the knockout playoffs.

NU, the UAAP Season 86 champion and winner of the first two SSL pre-season championships, banners Pool A with Enderun Colleges and Xavier University-Northern Mindanao Selection.

College of St. Benilde, the three-peat NCAA queens with 40 straight wins and counting, leads Pool D with runner-up Colegio de San Juan de Letran and University of San Carlos (USC) while Pool B has UAAP runner-up University of Santo Tomas, University of Batangas and Team SOCCSKSARGEN.

Completing the fray are UAAP semifinalist Far Eastern University (FEU), NCAA semifinalist Lyceum of the Philippines University and CESAFI champion University of the Southern Philippines Foundation (USPF) in Pool C. De La Salle University, the reigning SSL National Invitationals Champion, begged from the tourney due to injuries.

A simple opening ceremony is set at 11 a.m. after the curtain-raiser between USC and Letran as NU, led by UAAP MVP Bella Belen, tests the mettle of Enderun at 12 p.m. followed by the matches of UB-UST at 2 p.m. and USPF-FEU at 4 p.m.

But there’s more to the SSL than just a tournament assembling the best collegiate teams across the archipelago as the league in partnership with the Athletic Events and Sports Management, Inc., (ACES) reiterated its support for the growth of Philippine volleyball anew.

“I’m glad to be back and it’s my honor and privilege to be here seated with the stakeholders of the Philippine volleyball and SSL. I’d like to thank all of you and let’s look forward to this genuinely exciting and competitive league,” said ACES Chairman Dr. Philip Ella Juico.

“We always believe that we can play a part in developing women’s volleyball so we always look forward to the SSL. It provides opportunities for all players to compete with the more popular universities,” added Shakeys Pizza Asia Ventures, Inc. (SPAVI) CEO Vic Gregorio, joined by COO Jorge Concepcion, 12 Beyond Media’s Patricia Bermudez-Hizon and Smart Communications’ Bajjie del Rosario.

All Games will be available via livestream on Smart Livestream and Puso Pilipinas as well as on TV through Solar Sports. — John Bryan Ulanday