A look back at Philippine volleyball in 2019 (Part 1)
Mark Escarlote on Dec 25, 2019 07:05 PM
The year 2019 turned out to be one of the best years for Philippine volleyball.
The end of the decade turned out to be one of the best years for Philippine volleyball.
From exciting action, rivalries, glorious moments, inspiring stories and historic accomplishments to controversies and heartbreaks, 2019 was a colorful year both for the players and volleyball fans.
With the turn of the decade just days away, let’s look back at the most memorable Philippine volleyball moments in the year that was.
The year started with the continuation of the NCAA Season 94 action.
Two-time defending champion Arellano University was wreaking havoc in the tournament after winning eight straight games in the single-round robin elimination round.
The Lady Chiefs were then looking to claim an outright Finals berths only to be denied by the feisty San Beda University in a rematch of the 2018 championship showdown. Despite a shaky campaign, the Cesca Racraquin-led Lady Red Spikers overcame Arellano U in an exciting five-setter for a Final Four berth.
Holding a twice-to-beat advantage and vengeance on its mind, Arellano U shook off San Beda in straight sets for its third straight Finals.
While the Lady Chiefs took easily took the first championship berth, the University of Perpetual Help Lady Altas went through the proverbial eye of the needle.
The Macky Carino-mentored Lady Altas had a rough showing in the elims and needed a great push to survive.
Perpetual hurdled Jose Rizal University in the last playdate of the elims to avoid a very dangerous do-or-die match for a semis berth. The win also gave the Lady Red Spikers the no. 4 spot in the Final Four.
With the no. 3 seat secured, Carino went up against his former team and twice-to-beat College of St. Benilde in the semis.
Carino, who gave CSB its breakthrough title in 2016, wielded the same magic wand he had with the Lady Blazers before as the Lady Altas forced a series decider when they snapped the Taft-based squad’s eight-game winning streak in four sets.
Perpetual then finished off CSB in an amazing come-from-behind win to face the Lady Chiefs in the Finals with the Lady Altas staring at making a historic triple gold run with its men’s and juniors counterparts also getting seats in their respective Finals.
The Las Pinas-based squad scored a huge shocker when it handed Arellano U a Game 1 defeat in the best-of-three championship series.
But the Lady Altas ran out of luck in the next two games as the Lady Chiefs took Game 2 in five sets before finally completing a grand slam with a four-set victory in the series decider for their fourth crown in five years.
Necole Ebuen was named Season Most Valuable Player while Regine Arocha bagged her second straight Finals MVP.
The women’s crown eluded Perpetual for the fifth straight year but the Altas and Junior Altas’ reign continued.
It was a perfect season for the Altas after sweeping the tournament behind two-time Season MVP Joebert Almodiel.
Not to be outdone were the Junior Altas as they swept their way to an amazing five straight championships.
The UAAP Season 81 women’s tournament could be considered as the most unpredictable contest in years.
Perennial powerhouse De La Salle University lost key players from the previous year. Ateneo de Manila University was reeling from a painful Season 80 experience and was then adjusting with new coach Oliver Almadro’s system. Expectations were high for University of Sto. Tomas with its graduating senior Sisi Rondina and entry of highly-touted rookie Eya Laure. Pre-season favorite University of the Philippines, Adamson University and Far Eastern University were ready to spring surprises. University of the East was a different team with Karl Dimaculangan calling the shots and National University fielded a young but hungry team.
The season-opening weekend was an explosive one with four-peat-seeking DLSU starting its campaign in a very rare clash with archrival Ateneo with the Lady Spikers winning in four sets.
But the loss only ignited the Kat Tolentino, Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon-led Lady Eagles’ drive as Ateneo won its next 10 games. The Katipunan-based squad’s winning run was snapped by DLSU but won its last two outings to secure the top seed and twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
DLSU, with only senior Des Cheng left to lead the team, had some anxious moments in their campaign as they lost four games in the elims including a rare season sweep defeat at the hands of UP and a crucial one against FEU to close the round.
UST, on the other hand, had to deal with losing sophomore Milena Alesandrini to a knee injury midway in the first round to make a return trip to the semis.
Meanwhile, the Lady Tamaraws, who felt the departure of all-around player and court leader Bernadeth Pons and loss of injured Chin-chin Basas, barely made it to the Final Four with their struggles in the elims. It didn’t help that FEU lost rookie Lycha Ebod to a knee injury during the elims.
But what was surprising was the meltdown of UP.
The Lady Maroons had a good pre-season run after winning the Premier Volleyball League and Philippine Superliga collegiate tournaments but its success didn’t carry over to the UAAP.
UP, actually, had a promising first round with four wins against three losses. Then the Lady Maroons hit a brick wall in the second round.
After crushing DLSU to open the second round, UP lost to Ateneo. The Lady Maroons were able to recover with a win over UE but four straight defeats including a stinging five-set loss to the Lady Bulldogs that booted them out of the semis race ended UP’s sorry season.
Another disappointing collapse was the Lady Falcons’ campaign.
Adamson lost its first three games. The Lady Falcons also saw the sacking of head coach Air Padda, who was replaced by Onyok Getigan.
The Lady Falcons stopped its losing skid after taking a win over NU only to experience a nine-game slump before ending their campaign on a high note with a win over UP.
Meanwhile, UE collected its most wins in seven years after logging in three victories enough to end the colorful collegiate careers of libero Kath Arado and charismatic hitter Judith Abil on a good note.
The Lady Bulldogs, on the other hand, underwent coaching changes just weeks before the start of the season. Babes Castillo was replaced by Norman Miguel after just one year of tenure.
Miguel took over a team with more than half of its core composed of rookies. Veteran Risa Sato was ineligible to play because of academic issues.
Promising rookie setter Joyme Cagande’s debut season ended abruptly after suffering a knee injury in NU’s first game.
The Lady Bulldogs won only four games in 14 outings but was UP’s spoiler after sweeping Lady Maroons in their elims head-to-head.
Tied at 10-4 record after the elims, DLSU and UST clashed in a crucial playoff for the semis twice-to-beat advantage.
It was an epic game that saw Sisi Rondina uncork 29 points to help the Tigresses defeat the Lady Spikers in four sets and secure the semis incentive.
For the first time in 11 years, DLSU faced a team with a twice-to-win disadvantage. UST didn’t waste its chance.
Laure had a career outing when she scored 25 points to tow the Espana-based squad to its first Finals appearance in eight years and ending DLSU’s decade-long championship appearance run in a down-the-wire five-set thriller.
In the other semis pairing, Ateneo suffered a shocking loss to FEU that forced a decider.
But the Lady Eagles, who saw its six-year Finals run snapped in Season 80 Final Four loss to the Lady Tams, made sure that they’ll end up back in the championship once again as they sent FEU packing in four sets in their do-or-die clash to set up a historic first title duel with the Tigresses.
UST was the hungrier team in the championship series opener.
The Tigresses clawed the Lady Eagles in an emphatic straight sets win.
But the core of Ateneo has been in the biggest stage of the UAAP for the longest time – the Lady Eagles’ biggest advantage. No one in the UST side ever experienced playing in the indoor Finals in front of a huge crowd and closing out the series proved to be too much for the first timers.
The Lady Eagles exploited just that as they tamed the Tigresses, who saw Laure sprain her left ankle in the third and lost her explosiveness after that, in four sets.
Smelling blood, Ateneo, energized by its crowd, demolished UST in the decider to claim its third title in six years and first since its back-to-back crowns in Season 76 and 77.
Rondina was named Season MVP, Laure took the Rookie of the Year honors while Bea De Leon claimed the Finals MVP.
The men’s competition didn’t have the same flair and fanfare as that of the women’s but it seemed to be a preview of what’s to come for Philippine men’s volleyball as a whole this year.
In a shocking turn of events, defending champion NU suddenly lost a veteran setter in Kim Dayandante after he was deemed ineligible to play putting an untested and young rookie playmaker Joshua Retamar on the spotlight.
FEU pounced on the Bulldogs’ losing its pilot as they beat NU, who was fresh from a historic gold medal win in the ASEAN University Games, in a surprising straight sets fashion.
But it turned out to be a minor hiccup for the Bulldogs as they won their next 14 games to book its seventh straight Finals appearance. NU beat Adamson in the Final Four.
The Tams, meanwhile, armed themselves with a semis twice-to-beat advantage and made sure that this time the Blue Eagles, who was under new coach Timmy Sto. Tomas and in the post-Marck Espejo era, won’t get a chance of a comeback to challenge NU for the crown for the first time after seven seasons.
Behind MVP Bryan Bagunas, NU overwhelmed FEU in just two games to retain its throne.
(to be continued)