[Here is the fourth installment of our preview for the UAAP women's volleyball tournament]
NATIONAL University coach Roger Gorayeb believes the long wait is over as he aims to lead the Lady Bulldogs back on top of the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament this season, six decades after their last championship run.
For the multi-titled mentor, being back on top is long overdue for the Lady Bulldogs, whose extensive recruitment program started nine years ago.
“Noong nakaraan (season), gusto kong pumasok sa top four, ngayon gusto ko na mag-Finals kasi they started recruitment 2008 but they never had the chance to go to the Finals,” he said.
“(That’s why) pipilitin kong dalhin sa Finals this year kasi ito na ang magandang chance namin kasi kumpleto pa kami, lalo na next year makikita mo ang potential niyan so gusto ko na samantalahin kasi kaya ng mga bata,” Gorayeb added.
Gorayeb, of course, certainly has the talented and skilled roster to accomplish his goal.
The Lady Bulldogs have been successful in their campaign in the Shakey’s V-League Season 13 Collegiate Conference after they beat Ateneo to retain the title.
Also, this year’s team captain Jaja Santiago has shown vast improvement from playing in plenty local and international tournaments last year. Santiago bannered Foton to a runner-up finish in the Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Conference before she and her elder sister Dindin along with American imports Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher led the Tornadoes to back-to-back PSL Grand Prix titles.
Santiago also saw action in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship and the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship last September.
But the Lady Bulldogs is deep in talent as Santiago finds ample support in NU setter Jasmine Nabor, middle blocker Risa Sato, opposite spiker Roma Doromal. The trio has shown progress during the off-season that only bodes well for NU’s chances of ending the 60-year title drought.
Gorayeb is counting on his wards to do their part but he also admitted that he’s trying to limit them on social media.
“I hope ma-carry ng mga bata ang pressure, lalo na sa labas alam mo naman ang social media ngayon. Ang mga bata naman medyo pinagbabawa-bawalan ko na (sa social media),” he said.
Gorayeb is hoping that his young team will bank on their SVL experience but at the same time, he knows that UAAP is a different battlefield.
“Magandang jumpstart namin (‘yung V-League) na kaya naman pala namin (mag-champion). Ipagpatuloy lang namin pero iba pa rin ang UAAP,” he said.
NU also went to Japan for training, with the main objective of improving not just their on-court skills but more importantly their off-court chemistry.
“Nagpunta kami ng Japan para mas makapag-bonding pa and makapag-jell ng mabuti sa isa’t-isa,” shared Santiago. “Sabi kasi ni coach Roger ‘yun ang isa sa dapat namin i-work out.”
“Okay naman ang preparation namin, mataas ang morale ng mga bata,” added Gorayeb.
The veteran mentor’s top offensive option Myla Pablo has already graduated but he is optimistic that his holdovers can fill the void left by Pablo. He particularly points to Nabor, whom he plans to develop into a more confident playmaker this season to add more bite to the Lady Bulldogs offense.
“Kasi sobrang bait ni Jasmine eh na mahiyain siya, kaya ‘yun ang inaalis ko sa kanya. ‘Yung kumpyansa niya as a player nandoon, pero yung personality niya medyo ang waterloo ni Jasmine. Pero ang distribution niya, okay siya doon,” he said.
NU, which last tasted a championship in 1957, starts its campaign in the UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball tournament on February 4 against University of the East at the Araneta Coliseum.