MASTER tacticians are already taking sides and weighing in on the debate ahead of the highly anticipated clash between titans Ateneo and La Salle for the fifth consecutive finals in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament.
In Seasons 74 and 75, La Salle brought home the crown to Taft, but the following two seasons, Ateneo snatched the championship under Thai coach Tai Bundit.
Surprisingly, veteran mentors like University of the East coach Francis Vicente, University of Santo Tomas’ Kungfu Reyes, Petron's George Pascua and Cignal's Sammy Acaylar favor the second-seed Lady Spikers over the reigning champs Lady Eagles ahead of Game One on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Key ng La Salle is blocking and libero. Weakness of Ateneo [is they have] only one high gunner, which is (Alyssa) Valdez. Kung tatargetin nila sa service receive si Valdez, mapapagod ‘yun at mahihirapan makapaglaro ng usual game niya,” said Vicente.
Reyes, who was Vicente’s deputy in UST high school during the early 2000s, knows for a fact that duplicating the three-peat Valdez did for the Junior Tigresses from 2008-2010 will be much harder in the seniors level.
“Mas pabor ako sa La Salle. Mas uhaw [sila]. Mas gutom. Mas handa na manalo ngayon, lalo na at tinalo sila ng Ateneo for the past two years. Knowing La Salle, parang leon ‘yan na tumatapang kapag nasusugatan,” said the UST coach.
“[Pero] Ateneo naman, matindi rin ang drive n'yan. Nangako si Alyssa na bigyan ng tatlong titles ang Ateneo para mapantayan ginawa nya nung high school. Eto na ‘yun. Tingin ko lalaban din sila.
“Although La Salle ako dyan, tingin ko magiging pukpukan ang labanan. Aabot sa Game Three ‘yan. Walang susuko diyan. Wala nang maiitago ang dalawang teams na ‘yan. Nagkabistuhan na. Kung sino na lang gustong manalo at mas uhaw eh siya ang makakakuha ng korona,” he added.
Tri-Activ Spikers coach Pascua and Cignal mentor Acaylar believes that La Salle’s blocking will be the key. Having players like Mika Reyes, Kim Dy, Mary Joy Baron will make it hard for Ateneo’s offense to penetrate, they said.
Reyes stands 5-foot-9, Dy is 5-foot-8 and Baron is 5-foot-11.
“La Salle kasi advantage sila sa blocking compared to Ateneo, mas malalaki ang blockers nila. Pero aabot ng Game Three ‘yan,” said Pascua.
“In my opinion, it's La Salle. Because they have the height advantage and the setter (Kim Fajardo) can create good plays,” Acaylar agreed.
“However, La Salle has a disadvantage. When their opponent gets a set, it's hard for them to keep up. Sa nakikita ko kasi sa condition nila, pag tumatagal ang laban nauubusan sila, unlike Ateneo. Ang Ateneo naman kasi parang diesel. But for me it's La Salle,” he added.
However, there’s one firm Ateneo believer and he's none other than former Lady Eagles coach Roger Gorayeb, who mentored the Katipunan-based squad from 2009-2013. Former Lady Eagles stars Fille Cainglet-Cayetano, Gretchen Ho, Dzi Gervacio and Jem Ferrer played their five-year eligibility under Gorayeb.
In Gorayeb’s last two years with Ateneo, he steered the team to a back-to-back runner-up finishes to La Salle.
“Sa Ateneo ako,” said the veteran coach. “Basta ako, hangga’t nandyan si Alyssa, iba ‘yung presence ni Alyssa. Tapos si Jia (Morado) pa ang galing mag-set, tapos nandyan pa ang suporta ng ibang players kaya syempre no question naman ‘yun. Ateneo tayo.”
“Sa La Salle naman, ang kanilang pride ‘di mo basta-basta matitibag ‘yun. Ang pride nila as a team napakataas, so equal footing na lang siguro. Ang mga players naman ng La Salle, maayos naman ang set [kasi] magaling din si Kim. Biruan nga nila kung sinong magandang gising. Malaking bagay kasi ang pride na at stake,” he added.