Key losses: Loren Lantin, Mia Hirotsuji, Kikay Depante, Jem Gutierrez, Patty Rasmo
Key additions: EJ Laure, Cherry Rondina, Mary Pacres, Alyssa Alterado, Sarah Verutiao
Key Holdovers: Pam Lastimosa, Mela Tunay, Ria Meneses, Jessey de Leon
Pre-season tournaments joined: Shakey’s V-League First Conference
ONCE is enough, twice is too much.
Now University of Santo Tomas is hoping to avoid a third successive semifinal absence in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament as the Tigresses try to claw back to the Final Four in Season 77 that starts on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Perennial postseason contenders who made 14 straight semifinal appearances, the Tigresses fell short in the last two seasons and posted a dismal 5-9 win-loss card last season — their worst in the past 16 years.
Now, the España-based spikers try to reclaim lost glory.
Tigresses coach Odjie Mamon is confident of reaching their goal if through his belles’ collective effort and the right mixture of desire and consistency on and off the court — qualities that have been lacking the last two years.
“Ang main goal is balik-Final Four,” said the lanky mentor. “Workable naman basta andyan ang puso at will power ng mga bata. ’Yun talaga ang kulang last year.”
UST is still bannered by its solid, veteran core of skipper Pam Lastimosa, Mela Tunay, Jessey de Leon and the 6-foot Ria Meneses.
But all eyes will be on rookie sensation EJ Laure, the sought-after UST high school star who led the proud school to the UAAP girls’ crown last season, notching MVP honors in the process.
Prodded to keep wearing the yellow and gold jersey, the daughter of PBA veteran Eddie Laure has been touted as the missing link in UST’s potential resurgence.
“I hope and I’m praying that she’ll live up to the expectations,” said Mamon, who is also counting on other freshmen Cherry Rondina, Mary Pacres, Alyssa Alterado and setter Sarah Verutiao. “Among the rookies siya (Laure) talaga nakasama na namin ng matagal and naka-jell na sa team.”
And Laure has already shown a glimpse of her potential with a smashing debut in the Shakey’s V-League, where the 5-foot-9 spiker emerged as top scorer for the Tigresses numerous times.
Rondina is also expected to deliver the goods for UST as she and Rica Rivera teamed up to cop the UAAP beach volleyball crown last September.
The 18-year old Cebuana was named MVP in the outdoor competition after she and Rivera downed La Salle’s Cyd Demecillo and Kim Fajardo. Unfortunately, Rivera will not make it to the indoor tournament due to injury.
Pacres, Alterado, and Verutiao also make the Tigresses fiercer.
Pacres is a lefty opposite striker who hails from Mandaue City, while Ateneo de Davao product Alterado, 18, is a defense and service specialist, but has been named Best Attacker in Davao leagues.
Verutiao, an 18-year old former Kings’ Montessori School standout, is set to replace Loren Lantin as the team's setter.
UST's first opponent will be the University of the East Lady Warriors in season opener at 2 p.m. at the MOA Arena.