[Editor's note: This is the second of our eight-part preview of the coming UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament]
Last Season: 8th Place (2-12)
Key Holdovers: Kath Arado, Judith Abil, Roselle Baliton, Me-Ann Mendrez, Laizah Bendong
Returnee: Jasmine Alcayde
Departure: Shaya Adorador
Newcomer: Jasckin Babol
Head Coach: Rey Karl Dimaculangan (1st season)
UNIVERSITY of the East is not promising a sudden rise to the Final Four, but it seeks to take down as many teams as it can this UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament that fires off on February 16.
Last year, the Lady Red Warriors, led by the graduating Shaya Adorador, showed vast improvement by winning their first back-back games at the expense of Adamson and UST since 2012 although they still ended up at eighth place with a 2-12 win-loss record.
The team also earned its first bronze medal finish in any tournament since UAAP Season 67 after stunning FEU in the battle for third in the Philippine Superliga Collegiate Grand Slam last December.
But new UE head coach Rey Karl Dimaculangan doesn't see the team as a Final Four contender. Not yet, anyway.
“Tuwing tinatanong kasi yung expectations, hindi ko na lang siguro (iniinstill) sa kanila na mag-expect na goal agad namin is Final Four,” Dimaculangan said. “Ang sinasabi lagi namin is manalo kami bawat game, mananalo ng games as much as possible."
‘Beat as many teams as you can’ was the goal set by UE athletic director Rod Roque, who took charge of last year’s team after former coach Francis Vicente left following a 0-5 start to the season.
With six graduating players bannered by star libero Kath Arado, team captain Roselle Baliton, and Judith Abil, and most of the roster having at least a year of UAAP experience, Dimaculangan believes his squad knows how to beat every UAAP team through their hunger to rise from the bottom.
“Matagal na kasi silang magkakasama and matagal na rin silang nasa UAAP pero yung experience andoon na, hindi lang nananalo siguro yun lang yung kulang,” said Dimaculangan, making special mention of their floor defense led by the league’s top libero in Arado as their main strength.
But the reigning UAAP Best Digger and Receiver and her teammates including outside hitter Me-Ann Mendrez, returning Jasmine Alcayde, setter Laizah Bendong and middle blocker Seth Rodriguez believe they are all ready to rise from the bottom.
"Nakaka-blessed na nakikita ko sila na nagma-mature hindi lang sa loob ng court pati sa labas," she said.
With the vast improvement of the Lady Red Warriors, Dimaculangan said that they only have to overcome their unforced errors to establish a winning mentality.
“Siguro yung mentality na lang siguro din kasi ang nagiging main problem din kasi namin is yung unforced errors namin, lumalabas pa rin siguro kahit nung preseason error pa rin kami,” said the brother of Petron volleyball star Rhea Dimaculangan.
A busy offseason saw the Lady Red Warriors gain experinece with their podium finish in the Collegiate Grand Slam. Some players played in separate clubs with Alcayde joining All-Filipino champion Petron, Arado helping Generika-Ayala win bronze and Baliton seeing action with Sta. Lucia, while Mendrez campaigned with Petro Gazz and Abil and Rodriguez played for Tacloban in the Premier Volleyball League.
Dimaculangan hopes that they could bring that experience and hunger while wearing the UE jersey and playing in the UAAP to change the reputation of the team as a cellar-dweller.
“Sana,” he said. “Kasi ayaw na din nila yung laging talo so malaking bagay din yung nagka-club sila medyo tumataas din yung morale din nila and nafi-feel din nila na panalo sila.”