WHAT IF… Kat Tolentino played for UST?

Mark Escarlote on Jun 24, 2020 01:55 PM
WHAT IF… Kat Tolentino played for UST?
(Photo: Arvin Lim)

We all know how big of a role Kat Tolentino played to bring the coveted UAAP women’s volleyball title back to Ateneo de Manila University last year.

The 6-foot-2 Fil-Canadian has been a vital cog for the Lady Eagles since her UAAP debut in 2017.

Ateneo’s faith in Tolentino despite her suffering three anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) injuries before officially seeing action for the blue and white paid off when the Lady Eagles won their third title overall and first post-Alyssa Valdez era.

In a previous article, Tolentino shared how she ended flying to the Philippines, away from her home in Canada to play for Ateneo.   

[Related story: Kat Tolentino: How she ended up as a Lady Eagle]

But in the same So She Did! Podcast episode, host and former Ateneo courtside reporter Martie Bautista asked Tolentino which other university she thinks she would’ve gone to if she didn’t go to the Katipunan-based school?  

“Maybe, I will say UST as a safe answer. Because that’s where my parents went so that’s safe and a lot of like my relatives went to UST,” Tolentino answered.

Interesting, right?

So that brings us to this week’s ‘What if…’ piece.

What if Kat Tolentino played for the University of Sto. Tomas Tigresses?

Let’s say Kat followed the same route in deciding to go to the Philippines to play college volleyball.

She visited Ateneo and her brother, who was then with the basketball team, and got invited to train with the Lady Eagles… but then WHAT IF she also got an invitation from let’s say a relative to see the Tigresses in Espana.

Fast forward to a couple of years, Kat sustained two left knee injuries in Canada but in her second ACL tear instead getting a call from Ateneo, UST offered to help her get an operation, rehabilitation and a chance to play for the black and gold, which she accepted.

Tolentino flew to the Philippines, enrolled in UST and joined the Tigresses.

Then she suffered another ACL injury this time on her right knee while warming up in a pre-season tourney that forced her to sit out UAAP Season 78.

(Note: Coincidentally, Tolentino suffered her third ACL injury while warming up in the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference in a match against UST).

Finally, Tolentino officially donned the Tigresses uniform and debuted in UAAP Season 79.

With Tolentino onboard, UST would’ve fielded a formidable starting lineup with third year players Sisi Rondina and EJ Laure playing open, she at opposite with middles Tin Francisco and Ria Meneses, setter Alex Cabanos and libero Rica Rivera.

The Tigresses might’ve won more games instead of just nine and possibly vie for the top two spot instead of landing at just no. 3 in the Final Four.

Taking on De La Salle University in the semifinals, Kat’s presence would’ve given UST an extra punch. Although winning against the Lady Spikers side with Kim Kianna Dy, Des Cheng, Kim Fajardo, MVP Majoy Baron, Tin Tiamzon and Dawn Macandili would still be extremely difficult.

Besides, that semis match saw UST allow 11 aces to land and was shut down by DLSU with 17 kill blocks.

If Tolentino played for the Tigresses, the embarrassment UST suffered in Season 80 wouldn’t have happened. UST finished seventh that season with just a 4-10 win-loss slate.       

Yes, EJ Laure skipped that year because of a shoulder injury – that would keep her out of commission for a good two seasons – but with a now veteran Tolentino still available, Rondina, who was that season’s top scorer, wouldn’t need to shoulder all the scoring load.

UST that season would be a taller team with the arrival of Fil-Italian Milena Alessandrini. So that would take care of the absence of Laure.

UST might get another good shot at a Final Four spot. Conservatively, maybe a playoff for the no. 4 spot against the Jaja Santiago-led National University, if not bumping off the Lady Bulldogs entirely.

But then again the Tigresses would face the same DLSU lineup that crushed them the year before. UST even with Tolentino would still need a lot of luck to get past the twice-to-beat Lady Spikers.

Let’s say UST landed at no. 3 and pulled Ateneo down to no. 4, the Tigresses would then meet the Bernadeth Pons and Chinchin Basas-led Far Eastern University. UST might pull off a shocker to force a decider but the Lady Tamaraws that season were playing on a different level.

In Season 81, Tolentino averaged 14.2 points per game with a 30.23% success rate in attacks and 0.63 kill blocks per game.

Imagine putting up those same numbers combined with that year’s top two league scoring leaders in Rondina and rookie Eya Laure.

Crazy, right?

Setter Alina Bicar would have field day with top caliber hitters at hand even if Alessandrini had to cut her season short because of an injury.

With DLSU struggling in form, the fierce Tigresses wouldn’t have to go to a playoff to get a twice-to-beat advantage.

Heck, UST might even take the No. 1 spot to take on FEU.

The Tigresses fueled by their crowd and riding on their momentum would overwhelm the Lady Tamaraws for their first Finals appearance in eight years.

In this scenario, the Lady Spikers and Lady Eagles would be on an early collision course for a spot in the championship.

Considering DLSU swept Ateneo in the elims, the Lady Spikers would use that advantage to shoot down the Lady Eagles and set up a long-awaited rematch against the Tigresses.

The trio of Tolentino, Rondina and Eya Laure would be the main weapons on offense. Obviously, DLSU mentor Ramil De Jesus would concentrate the Lady Spikers' defense on those three.

But KC Galdones and Caitlin Viray would be free to wreak havoc if DLSU would commit Aduke Ogunsanya, Lourdes Clemente or even rookie Jolina Dela Cruz to stop Tolentino, Rondina and Eya Laure, who would not be injured for the rest of the Finals series.

(Note: Eya landed on Tolentino’s foot in Game 2 of the UST-Ateneo Finals)

The series would’ve ended in just two games.

The sea of gold would’ve celebrated the end of their nine-year championship drought and Tolentino would win her first title as a Tigress.

But then of course, that’s just a big ‘What if…’

 

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