NATIONAL University coach Edjet Mabbayad this early declared the Lady Bulldogs ready for the UAAP women's volleyball wars, but was quick to play down talk of being the title favorites after ruling the first conference of the V-League earlier this year.
Mabbayad noted that although NU has a formidable lineup, it won the V-League title in June with former national team setter Rubie de Leon as guest player. He said the UAAP volleyball tournament, the centerpiece event of the second semester, will be much different.
De Leon was named Finals MVP after helping lead the Lady Bulldogs overcome the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the title series.
“V-league naman hindi pwedeng maging basehan para sa UAAP kasi may guest players kami,” said Mabbayad, who will also be NU head coach in the UAAP for the first time after taking over from Francis John Vicente earlier this year.
Vicente declined a contract extension, but former assistant Mabbayad proved he can handle the team by steering the Bulldogs to their first major women's volleyball title since winning in the UAAP in 1956 and 1957.
“Possible na makaapekto sa players yung pagkawala ng guest player,” said Mabbayad. “Pero yun naman lagi naming sinasabi sa kanila na wag nilang asahan sila kasi hindi naman talaga sila permanente sa team.
“Kung sino yung nandyan sa UAAP, sila 'yung magtulong-tulong,” he added.
But Mabbayad admitted that the V-League title run was a huge part of the team's buildup for the UAAP.
“Nakatulong ang V-League sa pagpapataas ng moral nila. Nakakuha sila ng kompiyansa.”
The stint in the V-League also helped Jaja Santiago jell with the NU mainstays.
The towering Santiago, sister of NU star Dindin, has turned down an opportunity to play in the US NCAA with the University of California-Los Angeles Bruins and will see action with the Lady Bulldogs instead.
“Everyday training. Meron kaming araw na nagdadalawang beses (training) para workout sa umaga at bola sa hapon. Mag-uumpisa na din ang Saturday trainings namin,” Mabbayad said.
“Handa na yung team namin,” Mabbayad declared. “Mahabang season naman yang UAAP.”
Mabbayad also downplayed his part in the V-League title conquest, the school’s first big win in a long while.
“Sa tingin ko wala naman sa coaches yun. Players pa din ang magdadala ng laro,” he said, noting that teamwork and not star power will carry them to the title.
“Totoo na magagaling sina Dindin at Jaja,” said Mabbayad. “(But) team work kasi ang volleyball. Mahalaga ang bawat isa."