With half of the first round of the Shakey’s V-League done, some new faces are giving the veterans a run for their money. Fans are flocking to the Filoil Gym not just to watch the veterans display their lethal form, but to watch the new faces as they try to prove that they too can dish out their own brand of excitement as well.
Getting to be instant hits are UST Golden Tigresses’ prized incoming rookie, Ennajie (EJ) Laure; the FEU Lady Tamarraws’ rookie Bernadette Pons; plus the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ delicious M & Ms – Michelle Morente and Julia Morado.
The daughter of the high-leaping PBA and former MBA Most Valuable Player, Eddie Laure, EJ packs a mean wallop in a body that’s only 16 years of age! Give her a couple more years and a few more inches in height and she’ll be spiking that ball right down the opposition frontline!
EJ obviously got her high-flying genes from her dad, who used to wow the basketball crowd with his acrobatic forays toward the basket. And Dad Eddie doesn’t have just one daughter ready to hit the big-time. Younger sis, Eya, is also making waves and is a cinch to join her sister in the collegiate leagues in the years ahead, setting up the possibility of a mouth-watering showdown with the Santiago sisters, Dindin and Jaja. That is, if the pirating recruiters don’t get their way.
EJ plays the open spiker position for the Tigresses, and with veteran setter Rhea Dimaculangan giving her plenty of opportunities, and the backing of Coach Odjie Mamon, EJ has been racking up offensive points like a cold-blooded gunslinger in a carnival shoot. A proud awardee of the UAAP Juniors MVP crown, EJ is lucky to be in the company of a very supportive UST team. Veterans Pam Lastimosa, Mela Tunay, Ria Meneses and the rest of the fanged feline gang have been extra protective of this young protege despite her being a newbie in the team. Should UST figure well in the coming rounds, expect EJ to be crowding the likes of NU’s Dindin Santiago and Ateneo’s Alyssa Valdez for the league’s MVP title.
Bernadette Pons, on the other hand, has been displaying her all-around skills in a rookie-laden FEU Lady Tamaraws team. FEU is still in a rebuilding mode this year, with Bernie as the centerpiece of their program. Bernie is only 18 years young, but her demeanor on the court shows a maturity in the game far ahead of her years. Despite the opportunity to join the more visible school programs, her decision to stick with the Tamaraws augurs well for her, in that she gets more playing time and hence, more exposure for the bigger battles in the years to come.
At present, Bernie is up there with EJ in the Shakey’s V-League leaderboard in spikes and total points, but the apparent lack of support from her crew will hamper her chances of moving up the ranks. In the much-anticipated rookie match-up between EJ and Bernie in the UST versus FEU clash, the Golden Tigresses easily dismissed the Lady Tamaraws, highlighting the lack of experience and shallow bench on the FEU side. Given another offensive option in the next round however, FEU should be able to dish out more excitement and give the tournament favorites a run for their money.
Ateneo’s Lady Eagles, on the other hand, were not expected to contend for anything this year, what with the original Fab 5 saying goodbye to college ball last season. They were expected to be on the rebuilding mode, except that a new, refurbished Fab 5 was coming in with no idea about a supposed ‘right of passage’ period for rookies.
Thus, after surprising everyone – themselves included – by upending the DLSU Lady Archers in their much-ballyhooed UAAP finals, they have suddenly been installed as the top contender for the Shakey’s V-League crown. Of course, the team has fan favorite, Alyssa Valdez, leading the charge. But surprisingly, this group of rookie upstarts has also been a key element in the Lady Eagle challenge. Two of them, Michelle Morente and Julia Morado, have fit into the starting line-up effortlessly.
Michelle was a recruiting revelation from the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (JASMS). An athletic standout, she almost joined the Ateneo basketball team before she finally decided to focus on volleyball. She hasn’t regretted her decision since. Michie ranks third in Ateneo’s offensive hierarchy, behind Alyssa and that gentle giant, Amy Ahomiro.
Julia is Ateneo’s rookie setter from Colegio de San Agustin. Her outstanding high school volleyball resume includes the Best Setter Award in five big tournaments dating from 2011 to 2012. Julia’s steady setting has kept the Ateneo offense fluid and sharp, making the Ateneo faithful not miss the departure of the previous resident setter, Jem Ferrer. Expect Ateneo’s Lady Eagles to soar even higher as her game further matures.
There are more rookie standouts who are just waiting for their time to come. Ateneo’s Anna Gopico has just recently recovered from a bad knee injury, and her presence has made the Ateneo rotation even more potent. And then there’s Kim Gequillano also making waves. Suddenly, Ateneo’s bench looks deeper than the Philippine Deep! And Ateneo is not alone in this.
With women’s volleyball starting to sizzle, expect more of the young ladies to troop to the gym dreaming of becoming star bomberinas. It used to be that UST and FEU had a lock on the sport, owing to their huge student population. Not anymore. With the game’s popularity finally taking off, recruiting programs have evolved. Thai student-athletes have arrived to display their wares. Pretty soon, we’ll probably be seeing some African, Chinese or even Cuban behemoths in the mix. But that’s another story.
For more on the present Shakey’s V-League tourney, pls read: ‘She Booms, She Bangs’ at Shakey‘s!!! , and Lady Eagles Claw Lady Falcons in Shakey’s V-League Opening.
(Photos courtesy of Arnold Cruz, GMA network, brozigonzalesnow.blogspot.com, Richard Esguerra, kapitansports.wordpress.com, facebook.com, Shakey’s V-league, spin.ph, ph.sports.yahoo.com)