Zero to Hero: The Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team Story
AJ Pareja on Apr 28, 2017 12:48 PM
Once upon a time, Ateneo had nine straight winless seasons (Photo courtesy of Neil Flores).
If one were to ask the new age supporters of the Ateneo Volleyball teams, it won’t be much of a surprise if the fans will not believe that for quite a time, the Ateneo teams were the tailenders of the UAAP pack.
When the UAAP volleyball tournament started to pick up in popularity with television coverage, the Ateneo Lady Eagles have already been a Final Four contender with the likes of former Lady Eagles Charo Soriano, Patty Taganas, and Karla Bello. What most of the new age supporters don’t know however is that prior to television coverage, for quite a long time, the Ateneo teams (especially the men’s team) were nowhere near the radar of the winning column.
The Ateneo volleyball program is the perfect Cinderella story in recent UAAP history. Back when I was still applying for college, the Ateneo men's volleyball team was coming off nine straight years of having a 0-14 record (Editor's Notes: The Ateneo Blue Eagles were winless in the UAAP from 1997 to 2005. Ateneo didn't field a team in men's volleyball in 1996 and was also 0-14 from 1988 to 1993). It is quite surreal for a team to be winless for nine straight UAAP seasons especially with the school’s rich history in other sporting events. For a time, the Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team (AMVT) was considered by other schools as a filler squad since even second stringers of top teams would still beat Ateneo in straight sets.
The Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team's dry spell finally came to a halt with the joining of homegrown Ateneo High School Volleyball Team (AHSVT) rookies back in Season 69. Under the guidance of current Ateneo Volleyball program head Sherwin Malonzo as well as then team captain Emil De Jesus (AB IS 2006), the trio of Lorenzo Vera Cruz (BS MAC 2010), Michael De Joya (AB IS 2012), and Carlo Dulu (AB EU 2010) was monumental in giving the AMVT their first win (and an upset at that) at the expense of the then Final Four contender Adamson Falcons (Editor's Note: Ateneo finished 2 - 10 in Season 69) . The win was so exhillirating not just for the Ateneo teams but also for the other schools who were cheering for us as we neared match point. More than the big wins the current AMVT roster continues to rack, that particular match against the Adamson Falcons will always be remembered as the gateway win for the AMVT’s reign today.
The AMVT continued to slowly creep its way up under the mentorship of new head coach Ronald Dulay and assistant coach Oliver Almadro. With veteran stalwarts Martin Limgenco (BS MGT 2007) and Paolo Pareja (AB ECO 2007), the Timothy Sto. Tomas (AB POLSCI 2008)-led squad improved by a notch from the previous season. While it was still nowhere near the glory the current team is experiencing now, the team was starting to shake off the cellar dweller reputation and was starting to earn the respect of other competing teams.
Another historic milestone was finally set in Season 71 when, after decades in the UAAP, the AMVT barged into the Final Four under the helm of Coach Oliver Almadro and the co-leadership of now assistant coach Timmy Sto. Tomas and yours truly. The Eagles were off to a marvelous start with a 7-1 record in the first round, beating perennial contenders like the FEU Tamaraws and the UP Fighting Maroons in the process (Editor's Note: Ateneo eventually finished the elimination round at 9 - 5). The offensive mix of Sto Tomas, Pareja, Duane Teves (AB IS 2013) and JR Intal (AB MECO 2010) was well-orchestrated by now AWVT assistant coach Ed Ortega (BS MGT 2012) with the floor manned by Vian Serranilla (AB EURO 2010). It was however a bittersweet finish as the AMVT eventually succumbed to the UST Growling Tigers in the semis to end a historic season at 4th place.
The dreams of getting a podium came into fruition when the AMVT clinched a third place finish the following season. Learning from the previous season’s hurdle of peaking too soon, the AMVT was off to a slow start at 2-5 in the first round, but shocked all other teams with an impressive 6-1 run in the second round. With a batch of standout homegrown rookies in Neil Flores (BS MIS 2013), JP Pareja (AB ES 2013), Tomie Rivera (BS MGT 2013), and Gelo Caancan (AB COMM 2013), the AMVT was able to prove that their Final Four stint of the previous season was not a touch of luck, but a statement on the progress of the Ateneo Volleyball program. The Eagles eventually bowed down to the Tamaraws during the semifinals, but held their heads as they achieved their first medal finish.
Despite the progress made over the previous seasons, the AMVT suffered a big loss with Almadro’s transfer to the NU Bulldogs. The Eagles failed to repeat their Final Four finish for seasons 73 to 75.
While it seemed that the Eagles would be pushed back to their former cellar dweller status, Almadro’s return in Season 76 brought the team to greater heights.
Season 76 saw the Eagles finally vying for the coveted championship. Despite losing to the NU Bulldogs in the Finals of that season, the Eagles earned the utmost respect from the community. With Almadro’s return and a guaranteed continuation of his program, the Eagles finally were recognized as one of the top men’s volleyball team in the country to date.
With the leadership of Ysay Marasigan (AB IS 2016), the team was able to finally get the crown for Seasons 77 and 78. And now with Season 79, the AMVT once again broke records by having its first elimination round “sweep” leading to their fourth straight finals appearance.
Indeed, the Ateneo volleyball program has gone far for both men’s and women’s teams. The school’s dedication to invest and innovate the program by utilizing modern and foreign strategies and techniques has been the crucial factor in the teams’ success. Gone are the days when the Ateneo volleyball teams were mere league pushovers. As the current breed of Ateneo volleyball players continue to make history one after the other, those who have paved the way especially during the “Dark Ages of Ateneo Volleyball” have nothing but heads held high with pride for the overall success of the program.
About the author: Dr. AJ Pareja was Ateneo's first men's volleyball MVP in the UAAP. Pareja won the award during Season 72, when the Blue Eagles finished in third place.