With numerous off-season tournaments that filled up the calendar post-UAAP Season 80, volleyball mania in the country never really ceased in bringing thrill and excitement even for just a bit.
With leagues such as Premier Volleyball League Collegiate and Open Conferences, the long running University Games, and PSL Collegiate Grand Slam to name a few, the current and upcoming UAAP volleyball royalties never really lost the spotlight nor the buzz from the community albeit not being on the same battleground.
With teams like the Ateneo Lady Eagles, UST Golden Tigresses, and UP Lady Maroons making big waves and establishing their own claims to the crown in the off-season, we are all once again all set for another thrilling UAAP season where all teams are legitimate contenders for the Volleyball Iron Throne.
While pre-season leagues are by no means the tell-all of how each team will rank in the upcoming UAAP season, pre-season performance is a good indicator of at least how teams will play out for first round of elimination.
For this preview, we look at how each team, based on prior preparations and key losses/gains to their line-up would fare compared to their previous season performance.
Early First Round Predictions
Based on recent performances in the off-season, both the Lady Eagles and the Golden Tigresses are easy picks to slug it out for the top spot by the first round of eliminations.
With a remarkable outing against top club teams in the PVL Open Conference, the Ateneo Lady Eagles are primed to reclaim the crown. Should the perennial problem of passing and perimeter defense be addressed by new head coach Oliver Almadro, the towering triumvirate of Maddie Madayag-Bea De Leon-Tolentino would be showcasing a relatively more modern style of play yet to be seen in the women’s division.
Likewise, the UST Golden Tigresses have the most solid roster with the leadership of Sisi Rondina intact and supplemented by Milena Alessandrini and upcoming star Eya Laure. UST, despite losing to UP in the PSL collegiate Grand Slam is still very much formidable as they also have the UNIGAMES crown on their head.
UST no doubt relatively has the best spikers the league has to offer but a traditional and outdated attack strategy could be their undoing under the more modernized approach by Ateneo.
Not to be counted for the top spot is of course the reigning champs the DLSU Lady Spikers. With key losses in Kim Dy, Majoy Baron and Dawn Macandili, the Lady Spikers will have some early round struggles but the defending queens are expected to take it up a notch and regain dominance come second round.
Reminiscent of how even top foreign collegiate teams focus strictly on physical conditioning and fundamentals development throughout the off-season, the periodization in head coach Ramil De Jesus' program ensures that the Lady Spikers move like clockwork from the start and gain peak performance towards the end. While their contemporaries slug it out during the pre-season, De Jesus ensures that each player, veteran or rookie, is already a perfect fit in his system physically and fundamentally.
With two championship trophies in the PVL Collegiate Conference and PSL Collegiate Grand Slam, the UP Lady Maroons are all set to make significant claim for the throne in the UAAP.
With undeniably one of the most physical hitters in the league in Tots Carlos, the Lady Maroons are not short of threatening firepower. Head coach Godfrey Okumu will be challenged to find another significant offensive threat from the middle and opposite position to ease the defense to be put up surely against Carlos and Isa Molde. With Kat Tolentino defending the net from the right and should UST utilize Alessandrini’a height and power in the same location, UP's strongest suits would be hard pressed to keep the artillery going.
A toss up for an early 5th and 6th finish would be between the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the Adamson Lady Falcons. With key losses in Bernadeth Pons, Kyla Atienza and Chin Basas, last season’s runner-up, the FEU Lady Tamaraws, would be hard pressed to make a shift in attack strategy from the wings to the middle.
With Jeanette Villareal and last season’s best blocker Celine Domingo manning the front, the Lady Tamaraws can have more reliable attack options given that Buding Duremdes makes Atienza’s loss not much of a concern with her stable floor defense.
Equally with a triple-threat loss in Jema Galanza, Mylene Paat, and Fhen Emnas, the Adamson Lady Falcons would have to dig deep once again in order to barge in for the first time in the Final Four under head coach Airess Padda. It is to be considered however that the Lady Falcons dominated the eliminations of the PVL Collegiate Conference with an intact lineup even against UP and UST. With inarguably a stable libero in Thang Ponce and a more experienced Joy Dacoron from the middle, the main outcome of AdU's run would heavily rely on Soyud from the opposite and how her consistency has improved from the pre-season.
With a young and new coach taking the reigns for the UE Lady Warriors, much surprise can still be expected from the gritty team. With inarguably one of the best liberos in the country right now in Kath Arado, UE has no shortage of floor defense. Should new head coach Karl Dimaculangan pass on his setting skills to the teams main setter be it Roselle Baliton or Laizah Bendong, UE will still provide threatening upsets even against top teams.
And finally, not to be discredited from the race, a rebuilding team under a new coach and predominantly young batch of newcomers in the NU Lady Bulldogs could still provide much surprises for the league.
While the odds are against them be it in experience and maturity, the new team of NU would be hard pressed to gain as much experience as they can as well as provide some threats of upsets be it extending games to five-set matches or evien a couple of victories amongst the upper contenders.
Objectively and technically speaking, the young rebuilding team won’t be a sure consideration for a top 4 spot but how they will perform in upcoming seasons would rely heavily on the current one.