Mark Escarlote on Jan 28, 2018 12:37 PM
Could this season be the year of the Lady Bulldogs?

Key holdovers: Jaja Santiago, Jasmine Nabor, Risa Sato, Aiko Urdas

Key returnee: Bia General


National University has been considered as a perennial title contender since the school poured in support to its volleyball program.

But the past two seasons have been quite a struggle for Lady Bulldogs, missing the Final Four both times and plagued by internal issues that seemed to have affected the players in spite of a good showing during the preseason.

With a new system under coach Babes Castillo, the versatile Jaja Santiago playing in her swan song and a more mature and experienced core, NU this time could be a legit championship contender in the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament slated to open on February 3.

The Lady Bulldogs will parade the same lineup that dominated the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference four months ago and welcomed the return of libero Bia General.

“Mas maraming experience 'yung players. Jaja, Risa Sato, Jasmine Nabor, and Aiko Urdas most of them played big roles sa club leagues. We also have good liberos in Gayle Valdez and the returning Bia General,” said NU assistant coach Aaron Velez.

Castillo replaced Roger Gorayeb after a disappointing sixth place finish last year, a 7-7 win-loss record capped by painful loss to University of Sto. Tomas that booted the Lady Bulldogs out of Final Four contention.

When he assumed the position, Castillo buckled down on business to inject his system to the team.       

“Sa kanya kasi sa unang month talaga titignan niya kung anong kulang sayo, kung anong mga kailangan idagdag at ano ng meron sa’yo. And then, ‘yung second month niya or second week pag na-observe ka na niya is iko-correct na niya kung anong kailangan gaya ng paano position ng depensa mo ganito, ganyan,” said the 6-foot-5 Santiago, who is expected to shine once again for NU after gaining experience in the commercial leagues and stints with the national team. “Kasi dati pag nagre-receive kami at dumedepensa as in wide leg so ngayon parang tinuruan niya kami ganito yung kailangan mo para maka-receive ka.” 

“Kung middle or porket matangkad ka, hindi ka na magstay sa likod or hindi ka na magrereceive so tinuturuan niya kami nila Risa na mag-receive, dumepensa sa likod,” she added. “Si coach Babes sobrang tiyaga niya magturo kung may magkamali nga sa training stop kaagad dapat ganito yung tama, dapat ganito yung gagawin natin, kailangan ma-execute mo ng tama hindi naman agad agad pero at least nakukuha mo yung point niya yun yung gusto niya laging gawin or makuha ng players sa kanya."

“Chill lang siya, hindi siya ‘yung pag nagkamali ka maiinis agad. Imo-motivate ka pa niya di ba mali yung ginagawa mo, pero sasabihin niya sayo “you’re doing good, you’re doing fine eto lang yung konting kailangan ayusin” ganun siya. Hindi ka niya ipupush sa bagay na hindi mo naman kaya.”

NU will have 12 players on its roster but despite a short rotation, the Lady Bulldogs are considered by volleyball pundits to go all the way.

“I have to say na that the team with the best system, the best jelling will most certainly deserve the crown,” said Velez. “But, of course, I have to be optimistic about our team given that most of our players have been able to get experience from the commercial leagues that they played in.”

“That's going to be an advantage for us, but we still have to work at still.”



Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles

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