[Third of a series]
Key losses: Bea Tan, Sasha Faustino
Key additions: Bea de Leon, Madie Madayag, Therese Gaston, Jo Mariginot
Key holdovers: Alyssa Valdez, Michele Morente, Jia Morado, Denden Lazaro
Preseason tournaments joined: Shakey’s V-League First Conference
KEEP soaring while staying grounded at the same time.
That’s the mantra the Ateneo Lady Eagles have embraced as they start their defense of the UAAP women’s volleyball tiara in Season 77 that unfolds on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Even after stunning La Salle to end the Lady Spikers’ three-year supremacy and snap their own 36-year title drought last March, the Lady Eagles are still not letting themselves get carried away, sticking to the same age-old principle that has marked their success.
And reigning league MVP Alyssa Valdez is the first to remind her teammates to not let the success get in their heads.
“Ang goal namin same din as last year: one game at a time,” the do-it-all Valdez said. “Ang goal namin pagpasok sa court ’yung game na ’yun muna. Focus sa isa muna.”
“Masyado pa mahaba ang season kung iisipin dulo agad,” the 21-year-old pride of San Juan, Batangas added. “Syempre gusto din namin makapasok sa Final Four and hopefully magtuluy-tuloy.”
With then rookie sensations Michele Morente and Julia Morado having a year of experience under their belts, the Lady Eagles are considered favorites to win it all again.
But Valdez admitted the rest of the field has gotten better, all looking to the Katipunan-based spikers as their targets.
“Iba ang battle this year, lahat ng teams competitive talaga,” the fourth-year spiker said.
The Lady Eagles have also beefed up their roster, adding Bea de Leon, Madie Madayag, and Therese Gaston and breaking them in during the Shakey’s V-League First Conference.
De Leon, a 5-foot-11 product of Saint Pedro Poveda College, and 6-foot Madayag of Davao Christian High School, are expected to form a towering tandem at the middle.
After Valdez, the Lady Eagles once again managed to woo a former University of Santo Tomas high school standout in Gaston, a member of the UST squad that captured the UAAP girls’ championship last season.
With their lineup complete, the Lady Eagles have what it takes to repeat. Still, Valdez is not looking too far ahead.
“Hindi naman maiiwasan ang expectations,” she said. “Kasi lagi din kami nagte-training, so sa sarili mo pa lang may expectations ka na and sa team pero sinsasabi namin na ’wag mag-expect, instead, i-challenge na lang ang sarili nila para mas ma-hone ang talent.”
“Kesa sa mag-expect basta enjoy lang, be happy, lalabas naman naturally ang ginagawa sa training.”
It’s been eight months since their improbable championship run, but Valdez feels like it was just yesterday.
“Parang kalian lang 'no?” she recalled. “Nag-champion kami tapos ngayon bagong season na naman.”
But Valdez stressed their celebration has long ended as they have once again engaged in a Spartan-like training as part of their preparations.
And of course, Lady Eagles coach Tai Bundit’s “heart strong” and meditation techniques are also part of their regimen.
Ateneo will play in the main game of the season opener on Saturday at the MOA Arena.