PHILIPPINE volleyball breaks new ground on Saturday when the keenly awaited rematch between UAAP rivals De La Salle and Ateneo is played at the spacious Mall of Asia Arena.
Anticipating another sellout crowd for the second meeting between the league’s top two teams, officials decided to move the doubleheader - which included the encounter between University of Santo Tomas and National University – from the 5,000-seat The Arena in San Juan to the 16,000-capacity stadium in Pasay City.
The move alone is a major milestone for a sport which has grown in popularity since the birth of the Shakey's V-league 10 years ago - and a clear sign that the UAAP tournament has come a long way from the days when it used to hold its matches at the University of the Philippines gym.
Early reports reaching Spin.ph showed tickets for the twinbill had already been sold out.
Top seed and reigning champion La Salle won in its first meeting against No. 2 Ateneo, fighting back from two-sets down to hack out a dramatic 26-28, 25-21, 25-13, 25-21, 15-13 win before a surprising huge crowd at The Arena last January 12 that was estimated at over 7,000.
Dozens of fans were unable to watch that match because there simply was no more space available at the San Juan Arena, prompting the move to the bigger MOA Arena.
Coaches of both La Salle and Ateneop, however, were quick to play down the hype surrounding the 4 p.m. encounter, noting that what matters most is the win regardless of when and where the match is played.
“First and foremost, to play and win regardless kung saan yan. Sa kalye o saang semento pa yan, basta lalaro,” said multi-titled Ateneo mentor Roger Gorayeb.
“Nakapag-SEA Games naman na ako. Di naman bago yang laro na yan. Volleyball naman yan.”
Added La Salle counterpart Ramil de Jesus: “Parehas lang namang bago sa court, volleyball naman ang laro. Mahirap lang ang ilaw, iba ang positioning."
Although unfamiliar with the venue since they have not been able to practice at the venue yet, La Salle captain Abigail Maraño expects nothing less than perfect from her team.
“Kailangan starting now focus na kami, `yung mindset, 'yung courage namin madala namin hanggang Sabado,” Maraño said.
Ateneo skipper Dzi Gervacio hopes to avenge their loss to reigning back-to-back champions, but at the same time, she is trying not to be emotional as the Lady Eagles aim to hang on to second place with their 9-3 (win-loss) record.
To do that, she knows the Lady Eagles must now allow themselves to get caught up in the hype surrounding the first volleyball game to be played at the MOA Arena.
“We are hoping for a win for a tighter grip of the second spot,” said Gervacio. “(But) I have to control my emotions, after all it's just like any other game. Baka ma-affect pa ang laro ko and ng team.”