Key holdovers: Sisi Rondina, Dimdim Pacres, Carla Sandoval
Key losses: Pam Lastimosa, Ria Meneses (foregone last playing year), EJ Laure (shoulder injury)
Key addition: Milena Alessandrini
University of Sto. Tomas head coach Kungfu Reyes sees the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament as a challenge to surpass their achievements last year.
After being out of the top four for four straight years, the Tigresses were able to end a long drought with a third place finish.
UST won nine games and dropped five in the elimination round for its first Final Four appearance since ending up third in Season 74 before getting the boot in the Final Four against the eventual back-to-back champions De La Salle University.
Now parading a veteran team and a 6-foot-1 Filipino-Italian recruit despite some key losses, Reyes remains optimistic of their chance to achieve their immediate goal: a Final Four appearance with a twice-to-beat advantage.
With heavy hitters Sisi Rondina and Dimdim Pacres leading the way, Reyes believes that their goal of clinching a semis incentive is doable.
“Actually, instead na pressure (ang Season 80 campaign), it's a challenge for us,” said Reyes.
“First year ko, Top 6 kami. Second year ko, na-doble namin ang panalo namin and we ended up third last year,” he added. “This time i-overachieve naman namin hanggang maari.”
“Press release ko nga dati, right after ng game, hopefully by next year or ngayong upcoming season, ang ta-target-in naman namin going to Final 4 is 'yung twice-to-beat advantage.”
But the challenge gets a bit harder this time for the Tigresses when Ria Meneses decided to forego he last playing year while EJ Laure sustained a shoulder injury that forced her to sitout the season.
“Pero suddenly, things changed in the middle of... third week ng December. Eto na 'yung problema, kasi noong UniGames, wala na 'yung Ria Meneses eh. Pero pag-pasok noong magki-Christmas, EJ Laure naman nagkaroon ng problema,” said Reyes, whose squad defeated DLSU during the UniGames Final. “Pero good thing pa rin, maaga. At least naka-prepare kami sa mga ganyang bagay.”
Filling up for the role that Laure left is a much-improved Carla Sandoval.
“Hopefully 'yung maturity ni Carla na nakuha sa UniGames, sa PSL, 'yung camp namin sa Thailand, and siyempre 'yung scenario. This is the reality, wala na 'yung EJ, you need to be there, so 'yun naman ang motivation sa kanya,” he said.
UST also made a recruitment coup when they landed the services of Fil-Italian open hitter Milena Alessandrini, an explosive player who Ateneo de Manila University also eyed to recruit.
As part of their build-up, UST joined the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix where the Espana-based squad faced club teams with foreign imports despite playing without Laure and Rondina, who suited up for Foton and Petron, respectively.
The Tigresses flew to Thailand for a training camp and had challenging tuneup game against the Thai U-19 team.
With all of their preseason prep up, Reyes is confident that they can made an impact this season, and maybe a chance to end a nine-year title drought.
But first, UST must hurdle their opening day opponent – a rematch with the three-peat-seeking Lady Spikers on February 3 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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