UAAP Preview: Ateneo Lady Eagles ready to step out of Alyssa Valdez's giant shadow
Ateneo Lady Eagles are out to show there's life after Alyssa Valdez. Freddie Dionisio

ATENEO firmly believes there’s life after Queen Eagle Alyssa Valdez.

In fact, middle blocker Bea De Leon attests the Lady Eagles have become a stronger, deadlier team for the coming UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball tournament.

The Lady Eagles are looking forward to begin a new chapter without their former star Valdez, who helped the team get to five straight finals which they crowned with consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015.

They are also eager to bounce back after their three-peat dream got crushed by rival La Salle last year.

“Yeah, definitely (we’re a more dangerous team now), we can look at it in that sense and that's gonna make us a better team. Hopefully na lang talaga, it's gonna be put in a better light,” said the outspoken Ateneo stalwart.

De Leon pointed out that Valdez’s exit can bring out a lot of positives from the team and prompt most of the players to come out of their shell.

[See UAAP Preview: FEU Lady Tams vows no more heartbreaks with intact, veteran core]

De Leon admits that Ateneo is in rebuilding mode, but is confident in having battle-tested players and promising players that can still keep the Lady Eagles in title contention.

Fourth year setter Jia Morado and Mich Morente, the Season 74 super rookies who helped Valdez carry the Lady Eagles to their first UAAP title, will be the captain and co-captain, respectively. Maddie Madayag and Kat Tolentino will also make their return after recovering from ACL injuries.

The attack is set to be led by Jho Maraguinot.

“Oo naman, fair to say that (we’re rebuilding),” said de Leon.”(But) it’s not something bad. Rebuilding just means you're rebuilding in the sense to make it stronger, so it's definitely not a bad thing.”

[See UAAP Preview: Focus turns to Kim Dy, Kim Fajardo as La Salle Lady Spikers eye double]

Prior to the UAAP, the Lady Eagles took steps to get used to playing minus three-time MVP Valdez.Ateneo saw action in the Shakey’s V-League Season 13 Collegiate Conference and still managed to finish runner-up to National University - a feat even de Leon did not imagine they could do.

“Oh it was really good,” she recalled. “Even for us, definitely, we didn't think we'd get there. At the start of the V-League, we didn't even think we'd go to the next round.”

Their impressive finish started to fuel the flame for the Lady Eagles as the players are gradually learning to rely on themselves and their capabilities.

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“So, definitely it was a moral victory for us. Definitely (unexpected),” she said. “Definitely, it was good for us.”

“Kasi post-Ate Ly, we didn't think we'd be able to do such things, so that's good for our confidence also, that we know that we can go far,” she added.

[See UAAP Preview: UST Tigresses hope to live up to billing as title contenders]

Ateneo will start its campaign to reclaim the title on Saturday when it faces early favorite University of Santo Tomas at the Araneta Coliseum.

De Leon, however, is not only looking at UST as their toughest rival for the season. She’s also named defending champion La Salle, Adamson, University of the Philippines and Far Eastern University as teams to beat.

“Sana, of course we'll be one of them. But it's hard to tell. The big teams are still there, La Salle, UST is coming out, I think with really good season,” she said.

“Adamson has new coaches so that's a new thing also, UP has been building up for the past few years, so I feel like this year is gonna be... with the last year of Bersola, so that's really gonna be interesting also. Everyone actually, wala akong masasabi. FEU, Pons is there and Palma, and they're still intact,” she added. 

[See UAAP Preview: NU Lady Bulldogs eye end to 60-year title drought]

Follow the writer on Twitter: @meilinlozada