Key holdovers: Bea De Leon, Jho Maraguinot, Kat Tolentino
Key losses: Jia Morado, Michelle Morente, Ana Gopico, Jamie Lavitoria, Kim Gequillana, Gizelle Tan
Ateneo de Manila University’s character will be tested in probably the most challenging season for the Lady Eagles in almost a decade.
The Katipunan-based squad is heavily hit by the departure of veterans and injuries to some of their key players from last year, add the pre-season “ALE-serye”, the arguably most popular collegiate team will march into the 80th UAAP women’s volleyball tournament limping and scarred.
But the heartstrong spirit of the Lady Eagles will remain and desire to get back to the throne after two failed attempts still blazing at the hearts of those left to fight for the blue and white.
“As with any year, I think it's the same. We'll always try to give our best and we'll always try to win,” said the fourth year player Bea de Leon.
“It's a tough year, as everyone has been saying,” she added. “We're going to fight our way through it and make it to wherever our best gets us.”
The Lady Eagles has been in the Finals six straight times, winning back-to-back titles in Season 76 and 77 – in the so-called Alyssa Valdez-era – and were in the Final Four since Season 72.
Ateneo finished at top spot after the eliminations last year with a 12-2 slate before bowing to bitter rival De La Salle University in a series sweep in their sixth straight Finals installment.
For team captain Maddie Madayag, all they can promise to their legions of fans is a gallant fight – win or lose. For it won’t be an easy campaign for them after the departure of setter Jia Morado and libero Gizelle Tan, with Michelle Morente bolting out to join DLSU and with Kim Gequillana (injured), Ana Gopico (injured) and playmaker Jamie Lavitoria (academics) sitting out this season.
“I don't want anyone to expect anything. The team's just gonna play its game - the usual happy, heartstrong,” said Madayag. “I guess just expect that we'll give our best in every game and no matter what happens, we know that we did our best.”
A vow reiterated by her deputy Kat Tolentino.
“I think they can expect us to be a very new team, of course, with all the people that we lost last year. There's really no expectation for our team,” she said. “Since we're in a rebuilding phase, we're not putting pressure on ourselves.”
“Hopefully, there won't be too many fans expecting that this season will go exactly like last year,” Tolentino added. “This is a brand new team.” “In terms of just the players we've had over the past few years, we lost like six or seven people. I think that's the main difference; not necessarily the skill or the hard work, we still have that heartstrong mentality,” she continued. “Just the fact that we lost some of our older players really hit us hard.”
Aside from De Leon, Madayag and Tolentino, Ateneo will bank on reliable hitter Jho Maraguinot, Ponggay Gaston, Season 79 rookie of the year Jules Samonte, Ria Lo and setter Deanna Wong with the addition of Dani Ravena, Syd Eleazar, Cacee Gequillana and Annmarie Basa.
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