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Let me take a break from the breakup and share some thoughts on the current UAAP collegiate volleyball tourney. Due to work, I haven’t been able to watch the games as much as I’d like to but I’m grateful for the evening replays and YouTube uploads. Times like these, I’m happy to be living in a modern world.

I’d like to go straight to point with my observations. This season is a season for the DLSU Lady Spikers to lose. Of course, it has always been that way the last few seasons, with the Taft Avenue-based team showcasing such classic dominance in the sport. From the games I’ve seen them play, what the Lady Spikers possess is good ol’ teamwork.

Courtesy of PinoyExchange. All photos used were from here.

Courtesy of PinoyExchange. All photos used were from here.

How many times must we remind ourselves that volleyball is a team sport? You can see this at play in the international volleyball scene. The top-ranked team is none other than Brazil. While the South American team hsas their own set of superstar athletes, they aren’t as flashy as Korea’s Kim Yeon-Koung, China’s Zhu Ting, or yes, USA’s Destinee Hooker. What Brazil has is tremendous chemistry. Everyone is able to support the team’s efforts, and every player contributes to specific areas of the game. It’s a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I see this quality in the DLSU Lady Spikers. They have a very focused and determined on-court demeanour which translates to solid floor defense, extremely surgical service games, impressive setting which leads to equal offensive distribution, and of course, impeccable blocking. The result is that they haven’t dropped a set at all. And like Brazil, they may not have the tallest line-up in the tournament, but through Coach Ramil De Jesus’ dependable (and enviable) volleyball program, players are able to make the most out of their physical abilities.

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NU can be the biggest threat to DLSU’s dominance but the Lady Bulldogs only have one recent championship experience as resource for crucial matches. Although they boast of the tallest line-up, no small thanks to the Santiago sisters of course, I find their blocking wanting. Ivy Perez, overly criticized for her poor setting chores last season, has improved remarkably for Season 76. And yet the loss of a solid defensive element in Jen Reyes appears to plague the Lady Bulldogs from fully reaching their potential. If they peak at the right time, improve further on their defense and combine it with their super attacking options to give DLSU a run for their money.

Last year’s runner-up, the Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles are currently in a rebuilding stage but with the way they are playing, they have been exceeding expectations. The centrepiece of the team, Alyssa Valdez, is still monster player that she is but with improved defense, which makes her an even more all-around player.

Alyssa Valdez spiking against UST. Photo by Mark Cristino

The supporting crew is composed of rookies, so it’s forgivable if the team would lose crucial matches due to inexperience. Given more playing time, I think they can pose a strong threat to both NU and DLSU. To me, Jamie Morado is the highlight of the rookie-laden team. As a first-year player, her setting kills are incredible (low, fast jump sets which reminds of Rubie De Leon), and the only thing limiting her from becoming greater is collegiate experience.

Adamson's Mylene Paat sends the ball past UE's defense. Photo by Mark Cristino

Adamson, FEU, and UST on the other hand, can still be contenders but only if they find consistency. For Adamson, their scrappy defense has to be combined with speed. Macatuno’s setting has a tendency to be predictable and slow (considering the team’s height). If the Lady Falcons can vary their game and quicken their footwork, I think they can get into the Final Four.

FEU's Gyzelle Sy signals a play. Photo by Mark Cristino

FEU’s poor standing is not indicative of their skills. The team has been plagued by massive overhauls on their line-up every year, hampering the growth and maturity of the players. Which is a shame, considering FEU has one hell of a setter in Gyzelle Sy. Her cerebral approaching to setting sets her apart from every other setter this season. If FEU and deliver stronger offense supported by better court sense will make this team a dark horse. They already have Agno for floor defense, but they need to be more confident in their attacking, which has been shaky in some games, in order to really be a threat.

Marivic Meneses goes on the attack against Ateneo. Photo by Mark Cristino

UST, on the other hand, has been beset by reception ills. This was most evident when DLSU trashed them during their first round encounter using serves alone. A silver-lining is that basing on their recent performance against Ateneo, where they lost in five-sets, their blocking is back. The rookie Marivic Meneses is a joy to watch as she reminds me of a young Mary Jean Balse. Her intensity, bolstered by her more than capable attacking and blocking, is a sign of leadership abilities. We all know the España-based squad is behind in setting. But the issue has been discussed time and again and it’s about time we look into the positives. Cabaños is getting more playing time, and bench player Chlodia Cortez is a sign the team is looking back to its glory days for inspiration.

UP celebrates after scoring a point. Photo by Mark Cristino

While UP and UE are languishing in the standings, it’s nice to see both teams boasting of more competitive line-ups. The Diliman squad, in particular, is a tall, lean, and mean team showcasing commendable net defense, and better team chemistry. This year, we see Tiamzon, formerly an open spiker, doing the setting duties. For a converter-setter, she’s playing really well. I like what I see in the UP team, especially their strong middle blocker Bersola. Unfortunately, what the Lady Maroons need is variation in their offense. Power tips and sets to the open won’t suffice if they want to be seriously considered as a title contender. And Layug’s serve has to go away. The same can be said to the Lady Warriors. They have capable players too, and as a young team, they will only gain more experience as the tournament progress.

La Salle's Mike Reyes prepares for NU's serve. Photo by Mark Cristino

My fearless forecast? DLSU Lady Spikers will stretch their championship-streak to four seasons, encapsulating this year’s tagline, “Greatness Never Ends”. However, I think one or two teams will force them to rubber match, or even pull an upset (in the finals, perhaps); which of course will only benefit the increasingly popular sport as it will add unpredictability to the tournament.

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