ATENEO skipper Michelle Morente feels like it's UAAP Season 76 all over again.
The incoming third-year spiker couldn't help but compare the current Ateneo batch to the one she first joined two years ago with Alyssa Valdez and Jia Morado.
That young team, hit by the departure of Fille Cainglet-Cayetano, Jem Ferrer, Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho and head coach Roger Gorayeb, ended up giving Ateneo its first ever UAAP championship since joining the league in 1978.
On Monday night, a similarly rebuilding Ateneo team had to dig deep and rely on its new core to topple Technological Institute of the Philippines in a playoff, 16-25, 25-16, 25-20, 25-16, and advance to the quarterfinals.
The similarities between the two teams aren't lost on Morente.
“Parang ano eh, parang naisip ko UAAP 76 kami ngayon,” Morente told a handful of reporters after the Lady Eagles clinched the last quarterfinal berth in the Shakey’s V-League Season 13 Collegiate Conference.
“Kasi parang ‘diba it’s a young team, I guess doon kami nagtutugma lahat ng laro namin. Doon namin nalalabas lahat ng makakaya namin sa loob ng court,” she added.
Ateneo started the conference with back-to-back losses against TIP and San Sebastian before the Lady Eagles finally woke up and bounced back to defeat University of Perpetual Help and National University.
Like the mantra that their Thai coach Tai Bundit has instilled in them, Morente is still doing what they were taught since day one – to play happy.
“Play happy lang talaga, walang pressure lang talaga kasi like para sa mga bata din, experience sa kanila,” said Morente, who’s taken on the leadership role after Valdez played out her final year with Ateneo last season.
“Hindi ko naman magagawa ‘yun as a team captain kung wala ang batchmates ko sa likod. Sina Jia, sina Ana (Gopico), sina Kim (Gequillana), hindi ko naman magagawa ang role ko kung wala sila.
"Kasi even though team captain ako, nandoon pa rin sila sa likod ko, gina-guide ako na, ‘O, Mich, ganito, ganyan…’ parang syempre thankful din ako sa kanila,” she added.