HEAD coach Oliver Almadro sees Kat Tolentino as his new Marck Espejo in his transition from the Ateneo men’s volleyball team to the Lady Eagles this UAAP Season 81.
After replacing Tai Bundit as coach of the Lady Eagles, Almadro’s biggest adjustment is beginning life without five-time MVP Espejo,with whom he won three championships in five finals UAAP appearances together.
“Of course, me as a coach, gusto namin magkaroon ng parang Marck Espejo in a team,” Almadro said. “Dream namin yan, goal namin yan, na meron kaming go-to-guy na sobrang humble na sobrang down to earth but everytime talagang day in and day out laban lang ng laban.”
Tolentino could be just that for the Lady Eagles, Almandro said.
“So if Kat will be like that for our team. Well, I can say na God’s gift siya sa Ateneo,” he said. “I said that before kay Marck e and also I’m praying for Kat that she will be working hard for her to accept that role.”
The new Ateneo coach believes that if the fourth-year outside spiker embraces the vital role, the Lady Eagles can fly high this season.
"I really want Kat to embrace that role that 'I will be the go-to-guy.' If Kat will accept that role, if she will really step up to take that responsibility, malaking bagay yun for me,” he said.
“If Kat will be that kind of player, with the leadership of Bea (de Leon) and Maddie (Madayag) and with the talent of Deanna (Wong), I guess meron kaming laban this coming UAAP.”
Tolentino's showing in the Lady Eagles' lone pre-season tournament in the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference showed the 6-2 spiker is ready for the role.
“Everyone has a role in this team and Coach O told me since we first started that will be my main role since I’m one of the older girls and more experienced and I’ve been playing volleyball for a lot longer than some of this girls. I think he has seen the potential that I have," Tolentino said.
The Fil-Canadian star shrugged off the pressure that comes with such a vital role.
“It doesn’t really put [added] pressure, it’s just the role that I have,” Tolentino said. “I know that I won’t be able to do it without my teammates, so I can’t score unless my teammates received well or they defend also.”
With a solid core that also includes graduating stars De Leon, Madayag and Kim Gequillana, Tolentino said the Lady Eagles have a shot at ending a four-year title drought.
“This year, our main expectation is to make the finals and nothing less,” she said. “This is really the year for us to win it because we have the experience and for me I think it will be a great win for them to exit as champions.
"I wanna win for them as well.”