[Editor's note: Here's the seventh installment of our eight-part primer for the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament kicking off on Saturday]
Last Season: 3rd Place (9-5)
Key Holdovers: Bea De Leon, Maddie Madayag, Kat Tolentino, Deanna Wong, Jules Samonte, Ponggay Gaston, Kim Gequillana, Dani Ravena
Departures: Jho Maraguinot, Tai Bundit (coach)
Newcomer: Vanie Gandler
Head Coach: Oliver Almadro (1st season)
AFTER missing out of a finals appearance for the first time in six years, the Ateneo Lady Eagles are raring to bounce back in UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament with a new coach and a fresh approach.
The loss to twice-to-beat Far Eastern University in the Final Four last season led to a transition that led to the end of Thai coach Tai Bundit's four-year reign and the takeover of Ateneo men's coach Oliver Almandro.
Almadro won three men's titles in five finals appearances for Ateneo and now hopes to work his magic with the Lady Eagles, who are largely intact except for the departure of top scorer Jho Maraguinot.
If Bundit became famous for his 'heart strong' and 'happy, happy' mantra, Almandro is hoping to add fierceness to the Lady Eagles.
“They see the team as a happy team always but I’m mixing it for us,” Almadro said. “To be happy, we should have focus and we should have fierceness in our eyes everytime we play and everytime we show up in the UAAP.”
In their only preseason stint, Almadro brought the Lady Eagles to the finals of the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference before getting swept by champion Creamline led by former Ateneo stars Alyssa Valdez and Jia Morado.
With the way they played against top club teams in the Philippines, Kat Tolentino believes this is the biggest chance of this batch to win a championship.
“This is really the year for us to win it because we have the seniority and the experience,” Tolentino said. “For me, I think it will be a great win for them to exit as champions of course I wanna win for them as well.”
Co-captains Bea de Leon and Maddie Madayag are playing their final season with spiker-turned-libero Kim Gequillana, forming a solid core that also includes reigning UAAP best setter Deanna Wong, rookie Vanie Gandler and Tolentino.
“I guess yung leadership ni Maddie at Bea will be our best asset coming to this UAAP. Yun ang magiging bentahe ko because yung dalawa ay talagang palaban,” Almandro said.
“Isa ring factor namin is yung drive nila, yung thirst nila for another stint in the finals. They really want it more, sabi nga nila we have to want it more than them.”
De Leon, who took her time before deciding to play her final year, longs to bring back the glory days for Ateneo, which last won a title during her rookie year in Season 77.
“That’s the very reason why I came back talaga for one more year kasi I wanna be able to have at least a chance to grab another championship,” De Leon said.
Ateneo’s weakness has always been its floor defense. But with twice-a-day trainings and a training camp in Japan, Almadro is confident the concerns have been properly addressed.
“I guess we really have to maximize our service and receive, our defense para ma-incorporate namin sa advantage ng height namin,” he said.