DOC VOLLEYBALL: King's Landing
AJ Pareja on May 03, 2019 05:10 PM
Who will emerge as the kings of UAAP Season 81 men's volleyball?
The cast for UAAP Men's Volleyball Season 81 Final Four is now set in stone and the ensuring battle of fangs, horns, wings, and talons is every bit interesting as well as exciting. On one hand, the focus is on the defending champions NU Bulldogs maintaining ownership of the crown despite a lackluster Season 81 debut. On the other hand, the second seeded FEU Tamaraws, with the most solid holdovers from last season, are looking to re-establish their rich UAAP history last seen from legends like Edjet Mabbayad and JR Labrador. That is of course only possible for FEU should they make work of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, who despite the loss of key players in phenom Marck Espejo and setter Ish Polvorosa, have clawed their way to the top three with inarguably the most disciplend style of play. Lastly, the Adamson Falcons, with their trademark scrappy floor defense, prove more than a pushover even if up against a tall order of beating NU in succession. With these four teams having notable strengths of their own, it is quite interesting to see who can use such advantages to exploit their opponent’s weakness to eventually be crowned king of Season 81.
#1 National University Bulldogs vs #4 Adamson Soaring Falcons
The defending champions NU Bulldogs opened the season in substellar fashion as they got trounced by the heavily pre-season favored FEU Tamaraws. The concern about NU’s ability to defend their title proved short-lived however as they exerted their dominance from there on to remain undefeated up until the end of the eliminations. Despite a last-minute oversight rendering veteran setter Kim Dayandante ineligible to play, rookie setter Joshua Retamar has more than stepped up to prove his worth as NU’s top recruit.
More than the championship background and experienced line-up of veterans, what has worked for the Bulldogs has undoubtedly been their raw height and power advantage over other teams. While the second-seeded FEU Tamaraws were able to upset NU in their first game encounter through sheer agility and lackluster debut from Retamar, NU more than made up for that loss in succeeding games once their attack strategy was put into full gear by Retamar. With two tall open hitters in veteran Bryan Bagunas and rookie Nico Almendras, NU ensures dominance over the left field though much consistency can still be desired from the latter. Though not the first options to rack up the offensive output, the two middles in Francis Saura and Kim Malabunga have continued to be an intimidating wall to circumvent.
Though the line-up and rotation of NU have worked for them throughout the season and there’s not much reason to make some shuffling to date, some modern-style adjustments can be considered should the Bulldogs aim to fully maximize their strength. Opposite James Natividad is undoubtedly the most balanced player in court in terms of defensive and offensive capabilities. His current performance as a staple in the passing formation as well as capability to score a point when needed makes him a compelling case for the 2nd open position to provide the much needed balance on court. While Bagunas has proven highly effective from the left pin, his ability to hit from the right pin and right back row also makes him a noteworthy consideration in the opposite position should his high attack output be further maximized. The 1st open position is a toss up between Angelo Almendras and Madzlan Gampong, given whoever has better passing efficiency.
On the other hand, beating the defending champs twice might is definitely a tall order for the Adamson Soaring Falcons based on their elimination round encounters. While the Falcons have benefited much from the 1-2 punch packed by captain Pao Pablico and George Labang Jr., much is still needed from the other players most especially from the middles should they wish to challenge the defending champs to the hilt. To take note from FEU’s aforementioned win over NU in the first round, Adamson’s best chance to upset NU would be to fully engage the middles with quick tempo plays to make a dent in NU’s net defense. In line with that, given the significant difference in height, it is in Adamson’s best interest to serve aggressively in specific areas that would pin the middles from making their approach. By ensuring that Saura and Malabunga are no longer offensive threats, it would be easier to setup the defense against the wings.
Likewise, Pablico and Labang would be marked men for the Falcons. As such, the middles’ performance would be crucial in keeping the spotlight off their wings. With relatively convincing output from the middles, Pablico and Labang would find some breathing space to ease their way through the Bulldog defense. Perhaps the biggest adjustment Adamson needs is to follow suit in the modern trend of Setter-Open-Middle rotation as they still employ the traditional rotation that proves problematic against teams that can serve hard and target well.
#2 Far Eastern University Tamaraws vs #3 Ateneo De Manila University Blue Eagles
The FEU Tamaraws couldn’t ask for a better position than a twice-to-beat advantage over the Ateneo Blue Eagles as the latter have proven to be a thorn in their neck throughout the elimination round. With a tight 5-setter loss and an eventual win in the second round encounter, momentum and confidence are clearly on the side of the Blue Eagles despite the challenge of having to beat FEU twice to reach the finals.
Supporters and fans of both schools are up for a thrill this weekend as even their women counterparts will be mirroring the match albeit a reversed scenario with the Lady Eagles having the twice-to-beat advantage.
Nonetheless, both matches prove interesting as both FEU’s and Ateneo’s men’s teams reflect the strategy and characteristics of their female counterparts one way or another.
FEU immediately shot up to frontrunner status with an opening day dominance over NU due to their trademark combination plays and scrappy defense that proved challenge to adjust to for the defending champs. Their frontrunner status however proved temporary for FEU as key losses against Adamson and Ateneo in the second round prevented the Tamaraws from securing a playoff against NU for the top spot in the Final Four.
FEU’s first elimination loss were at the hands of Ateneo banking heavily on tactical serving and disciplined first and transition offense. Much like their female counterparts, the Tamaraws still rely heavily on scrappy combination plays that attempt to confuse blockers. Their second round encounter however against the Blue Eagles proved that such strategy proves limited against a team who can scout well the areas to target in order to prevent the execution of such plays. Ateneo’s Chumason Njigha has proven to be a bane for such offense as his capability in read blocking ensures that he doesn’t get easily exploited in the disguised attacks. Likewise, Ateneo’s remarkable passing and floor defense spearheaded by libero Manuel Sumanguid proves much of a challenge for FEU to really be aggressive in the serving area. Should the Tamaraws continue to execute the same offensive strategy against the Blue Eagles, it is in their best interest to solidify their passing and ensure a safety hitter from the right back row to ease off the Blue Eagles’ net defense from the middle.
On the other hand, much like their female counterparts, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are the lone team in the men’s division who have moved on from over reliance in combination plays heavily concentrated on the middle. Save for the lack of attempts from the pipe since the sign-off of Marck Espejo, the seemingly basic offensive strategy of the Blue Eagles focused on quick middle plays, and stable engagement from the pins mirrors even the offensive strategy employed in top level of play. Perhaps a major point of adjustment for the Ateneo at this part, should it aim to outplay the net defense of an agile team such as FEU is to further improve the speed of their pin attacks. With a strategy relying less on fancy deception, setter Egie Magadia should employ more tempo sets especially to opposite Tony Koyfman as their simple strategy proves less effective the higher the ball is set.