UAAP Season 82: No time to relax for repeat-seeking Ateneo Lady Eagles
Mark Escarlote on Feb 14, 2020 06:45 PM
(Photo: Arvin Lim)
All teams will be after Ateneo de Manila University as the Lady Eagles march into UAAP Season 82 with a huge target mark on their chests.
But instead of taking it as pressure in its attempt to keep the title perched in Katipunan, Ateneo embraces it. A constant reminder for the Lady Eagles to be on their toes at all times and always keep their guards up.
“Since defending champs kami, everyone wants to beat us,” said incoming third year libero Dani Ravena.
“Added pressure ‘yun, but at the same time, it's motivation for us not to be satisfied with one game,” added Ravena. “Everyone wants to beat us so the next game will be tougher than the last one.”
Ateneo lost three vital cogs in Maddie Madayag, Bea De Leon and Kim Gequillana after its title conquest last year in a dramatic come-from-behind Finals series win over University of Sto. Tomas, but still remains a powerhouse squad with key returnees and the addition of blue chip recruits.
The biggest boost in the Lady Eagles’ title-retention bid is the presence of prolific scorer and court leader Kat Tolentino, who decided to make one final tour of duty.
Joining Tolentino are seasoned players Jho Maraguinot and setter Jamie Lavitoria, who are making their return after skipping a year to pursue careers in the commercial league.
Ateneo will miss the services of heady playmaker Deanna Wong, who is still recovering from a shin injury, but will still have most of their championship core in Ravena, Ponggay Gaston, Jules Samonte, Vanessa Gandler, Erika Raagas and setter Jaja Maraguinot.
“Malaking factor ang pagbalik ng mga seniors sa amin and ‘yung improvement ng mga rookies and sophomores isang malaking bagay para sa amin,” said Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro.
Giving the Lady Eagles an even deeper arsenal this season is the integration of promising rookies led by scorer Faith Nisperos and middle Joan Narit.
While the good mix of veterans and rookies combined with championship experience and support of legions of fans make the Lady Eagles a serious title contender, Almadro constantly reminds his team that a repeat won’t be given to them for free.
“Mahirap maging complacent,” he said. “Mahirap mag-settle down na nakabalik na si ganito, nakabalik na si ganyan. I’m always telling my players, it’s not about how strong you are, it’s not about being strong lang eh.”
“’Di sapat sa akin yung magaling lang eh. Kailanngan talaga nandoon ang teamwork, nandoon ang effort, nandoon ang sacrifices for the team and the school,” Almadro stressed.
EYES ON YOU:
Ateneo will see this season the final flight of Kat Tolentino for the blue and white as well as the debut of its prized recruit Faith Nisperos.
All eyes will be on the duo as they try to bring the Lady Eagles their second straight title and fourth overall.
Nisperos showed a glimpse of what to expect from her during the pre-season as she led Ateneo to a third place finish in the PVL Collegiate Conference.
The National University-Nazareth School product, who averaged 12.4 points per game with 41.46% success rate in attacks in the PVL, embraces the challenge of playing for one of the best teams in the league in the past decade.
“I just wanna do my best,” she said. “I won't pressure myself in trying to push myself too hard. Ang goal ko lang naman is gampanan ‘yung role ko sa team.”
For Tolentino, who during the pre-season played for ChocoMucho in the PVL Open Conference, she will be playing a bigger role as the leader of the Lady Eagles.
“My main goal for this year is to find that leadership role and show my character,” said Tolentino. “I wanna help the team using my experience the last four years. I wanna encourage my teammates to push for that same goal.”
Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles