It’s winning time once again at the UAAP Women’s Volleyball tourney! And yes, folks, we’re in for another wingdinger-of-a-party as the defending Lady Eagles of Katipunan lead the newly-defrocked, but definitely still dangerous Lady Spikers of Taft at the halfway mark.
Eager to prove that their championship trophy last year was no fluke, Ateneo drew first blood with a hard-fought 5-set nail-biter: 25-22, 25-27, 16-25, 25-14, 15-9; before 18,489 screaming fans when they met at the end of the first round. It would be La Salle’s only defeat in the first round, while the win would give the soaring Eagles an unblemished no-loss record at the half.
That exciting thrill-a-minute spectacle had all the trappings of a championship match; with the huge crowd, the deafening cheers, the thumping drums and shrieking trumpets, and the on-court drama. And our fearless femmes fatales obliged the fans by treating this not just like any regular season game. To them, this was no longer for mere peanuts and popcorn. Neither was it for money or mummy. This was for something as valuable as life itself; this was for honor, for bragging rights, and that singular ecstasy of being able to look across the net victorious over a fallen foe. ‘Hah!!! I am your queen. Bow down before me, ye unworthy mortals!’
To the hardcore Blue and Green fans, this simmering rivalry has been there for decades, albeit more in the confines of the cage arena. Their cage rivalry has been the stuff of epic battles, from the days the two teams regaled the NCAA league to their eventual transfer to the UAAP. That rivalry has now spilled over to the ladies’ side, and it’s only fitting that our feline fighters step forward to bare their fangs for all to see.
Last year, Ateneo made history by annexing the UAAP crown via a heart-stopping, come-from-behind win. Towed by the Booming Baldo (Alyssa Valdez), the Lady Eagles had to survive 6 one-loss-and-you’re-dead encounters that would have taken the fight out of the faint of heart.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Ateneo as the team’s original Fab 5 had finally bid adieu to their college careers. They had five baby-blue rookies, and nothing spectacular was initially expected of them. But no. Baldo went booming, Denden (Lazaro) was there dishing, and the Kiwi (Amy Ahomiro) came caromin’! And the baby-blues? They blossomed mysteriously and magnificently under the sorcery of that modern-day Merlin, Coach ‘Tai’ Bundit. With that solid championship line-up that include the likes of Ella De Jesus and Bea De Leon intact, Ateneo is heavily favored to barge into the finals once again.
But La Salle’s Lady Spikers are definitely not raising the white flag either. With the departure of their fiery captain, Aby Marano, last season, a new leader has emerged. The cool and confident MVP candidate, Ara Galang, steps front and center to give the green and white stability and strength, along with fellow veterans, Mika Reyes and Kim Fajardo. Other reliables under Coach Ramil De Jesus include Cyd Demicillo, Mary Joy Baron, Des Cheng and Carol Cerveza.
But the key come crunch time will be how fast his bench, with talents such as rookie gem Christine Soyud, develop. Coach Ramil will need to give this greenhorn more playing time to gain maturity in the same manner Ateneo’s sweet M&Ms (Julia Morado and Mitch Morente) gained full potential last year. This will be critical particularly as the two evenly-matched teams expect grueling 5-set marathons to come and stretch the stamina of their mainstays.
Ateneo versus La Salle. The defending champ eyeball-to-eyeball against an ex-champ eager to take the crown back. Alluring Alyssa meets the unfazed Ara. Denden defending against Mika marauding. Who will the volley gods favor? Whose colored balloons will fall from the rafters? Will it be sky-blue for the soaring eagles? Or will it be forest green for the sharp-shooting archers? Shall we see the eagles clawing the archers? Or shall we see the archers skewering the eagles for dinner?
Be there to find out. And let’s get ready to party!