Key losses: Dindin Santiago, Mina Aganon, Jen Reyes
Key additions: Roma Joy Doromal, Gillian Faye Naval
Key holdovers: Jaja Santiago, Rizza Mandapat, Ivy Perez
Main goal: Final Four
Last year’s finish: Third
Preseason tournaments joined: Shakey’s V-League First Conference (March 23- May 25); Played an exhibition match in Shakey’s V-League Open Conference against RP U-17 Girls’ Team, Unigames (October 20-28)
NATIONAL University is facing a tall order in the women's volleyball competition of the UAAP 77th season after the departure of one of its twin towers and two other key players.
Losing 6-foot-2 Dindin Santiago along with her reliable backup Mina Aganon and defense specialist Jen Reyes to graduation, the Lady Bulldogs are on the rebuilding stage after reaching the Final Four the last two seasons.
The tournament opens on November 22 at the MOA Arena.
“Nabawasan ang tangkad ng team kasi gitna ang nawala at medyo malaki ‘yun,” Lady Bulldogs assistant coach Edjet Mabbayad said.“Ramdam ang bigat lalo na sa opensa, kasi malaking bagay talaga so, siguro rebuilding ang team ngayon.”
Season 76 Rookie of the Year Jaja Santiago, is 6’4” but will have to stand taller as the former UCLA prospect is tasked to fill the void left by older sister Dindin, while rookies Roma Joy Doromal and Gillian Faye Naval are expected to take over in the absence of Aganon and Reyes, respectively.
Doromal, a 5-foot-8 16-year old left-handed utility spiker from Jaro, Iloilo, played for Central Philippines University in high school and has already suited up for NU in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference as well as the exhibition match against the Philippine Under-17 Girls’ team in the Foreign Reinforced Conference.
Naval, 17, is a Leyte National High School product, who has also already played for the Lady Bulldogs in the V-League, where she was used sparingly. But the 5-foot- libero is bound to have extensive playing time in the country’s premier collegiate league.
The current crop has shown promise, having finished first runner-up to La Salle in the recent University Games in Iloilo.
Still, Mabbayad admitted he is fielding a relatively weaker side this season without Santiago, Aganon, and Reyes.
“Honestly stronger team last year,” said Mabbayad.
“Malaking bagay kasi key players sila.”
“Pero ang maganda naman ngayon ‘yung mga dating players naman nag-step up sila,” he was quick to add. “Kumbaga mas okay na rin ‘yun kasi magkaka-batch sila so nagje-jell na sila.”
Even with a towering, loaded roster last year, the Lady Bulldogs failed to live up to expectations as they lost to eventual champion Ateneo in the semifinals despite being armed with a twice-to-beat advantage.
With a rebuilding squad, NU has meager expectations this time, with the goal to just get back in the Final Four, before crossing the bridge when they get there as far as aiming higher is concerned.
“Final Four muna tapos one (game) at a time at saka na namin pag-isipan ang next step,” said Mabbayad, whose squad will face the Lady Eagles in a semifinal rematch in the main game of the season opener.