THE UAAP Season 82 women’s volleyball tournament is finally happening after a three-week delay, so it's as good a time as any to talk about the hot picks for the Final Four and the championship.
Days before the opening, SPIN.ph asked veteran mentors from the Philippine Super Liga for their forecast on the coming campaign.
Petron coach Emil Lontoc mentioned no less than five teams that he's sure will do well this season, namely University of Santo Tomas, La Salle, Ateneo, University of the Philippines and Adamson.
Lontoc feels UST, last year's runner-up to Ateneo, is still good enough to make the finals despite losing top hitter Sisi Rondina.
“Oo sobra [kaya nila kahit wala si Sisi], nakalaban ko [sa tune-up game],” said Lontoc, who is quite familiar with the teams from Espana having led the UST men's team to 25 finals appearances and a four-peat from 2008 to 2011.
Lontoc said the Tigresses can be a lot more formidable if they can polish their blocking.
“Nakausap ko nga si coach Kungfu [Reyes, UST head coach], sabi ko, ‘Dapat mag-focus ka sa block, may atake ka pero dapat mag-focus ka sa block, gumanda first ball mo, sigurado mananalo ka dyan,” said Lontoc.
Filling in the void left by Rondina is Eya Laure along with her elder sister EJ, who’s back with the team after a two-year sabbatical.
Cignal coach Edgar Barroga and PLDT coach Roger Gorayeb have slightly different picks for the Final Four.
Using their tuneup matches against UAAP teams as the main basis, Barroga named Ateneo, UST, National University and University of the Philippines as the likely cast in the Final Four.
Gorayeb, who had coaching stints both at NU and Ateneo, made La Salle his top pick and Adamson the dark horse.
“Sa ngayon wala pa kasi, alam mo naman, umpisa pa lang [ng season]. Pero syempre as usual La Salle pa rin at saka Adamson, umaangat,” he said.
Lontoc also mentioned Adamson as the team to watch, quite a surprise considering the Lady Falcons finished dead last the previous season with a 2-12 win-loss record.
Lontoc, based on what he saw with his own eyes, said the Lady Falcons will give every team in the UAAP a run for their money.
“Adamson nakalaban namin, tinalo namin [sa tuneup game] pero ang score dikit, 25-22, ganyan,” the Petron coach said. “Madami daw lumaban na commercial team sa kanila, puro talo.”
Thang Ponce, Trisha Genesis, Ceasa Pinar will be leading the Lady Falcons while newcomers Louie Romero, Lorene Toring and Rizza Cruz are expected to make immediate impacts.
However, the San Marcelino-based squad’s key recruit isn’t a player but a trainer in Tai Bundit - the person responsible for leading Ateneo to its maiden title in the UAAP in 2014.
“‘Yun ang coach na talagang patayan sa training,” Lontoc said.
La Salle missed the finals for the first time in a decade, but Lontoc is sure the Lady Spikers will be back with a vengeance this season.
Although the Lady Spikers’ roster is mainly made up of rookies, he feels head coach Ramil de Jesus can lead the team back to its glory.
Key holdovers Jolina dela Cruz, Michelle Cobb and Aduke Ogunsanya are counted upon to lead from the front for the Lady Spikers, teaming up with towering rookies Thea Gagate and Leila Cruz.
“La Salle, oo [Final Four]. Matibay na team kasi maganda ang sistema ni coach Ramil,” said Lontoc.
The Lady Maroons had a low-key preparation for the season after barely missing out on a Final Four place last year. But Lontoc has high hopes for a team led by veterans Isa Molde and Tots Carlos.
“UP papasok ‘yan. Hindi ko alam kung paano sila nag-prepare eh, pero [malakas ‘yan],” said Lontoc.
The coaches agreed defending champion Ateneo is still the team to beat with Kat Tolentino, Jhoanna Maraguinot, Jules Samonte, Ponggay Gaston and rookie Faith Nisperos leading the way.
But Lontoc warned that the departure of middle blockers Maddie Madayag and Bea de Leon have left the Lady Eagles with a big hole in the middle.
“Ateneo naman maraming attackers, pero walang middle. ‘Yun ang mahirap,” he said.