It seems like it was just yesterday when the much-awaited UAAP Season 78 women’s volleyball tournament began, with fans eagerly awaiting to witness the final go-rounds of stars like Alyssa Valdez, Ara Galang and Myla Pablo among others.
A month later, Round 1 is over. Ateneo is still on top while La Salle has proven to be the toughest challengers to the title. Surprisingly, NU has been really bad over the past 3 games while underdogs like UST and Adamson have improved of late.
Let’s look at this edition of the UAAP Power Rankings:
1. Ateneo Lady Eagles (6-1)
Yes, they lost to La Salle last Saturday. And it wasn’t pretty. Had the Lady Spikers beat UST in their last 1st round game, the Lady Spikers could’ve been on top of this list.
Alas, Ateneo finishes with the best record after 7 games. They were rock-solid in 6 of those outings, only suffering a hiccup when they faced a battle-ready La Salle squad in front of more than 16, 000 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Even with a number of new faces in the starting group — most notably in the libero and middle blocker positions — the #HeartStrong team has lost just 4 of the 22 sets they played.
Areas to improve: Now that their reception problems were emphasized during their match against La Salle, most of the teams will definitely attack the defending champions through heavy services.
Jamie Lavitoria and occasionally, Gizelle Tan, have the most important role of manning the floor for Ateneo. And boy do they need to be more confident in receiving that ball. Lavitoria’s lackadaisical performance against the Lady Spikers were mostly mental and she has to overcome that if they are to exact sweet revenge in Round 2.
Alyssa Valdez has to assert herself more, too, even as she continues to try to be the ultimate ate to her younger teammates.
Second-round forecast: Now we know they are not invincible and La Salle’s win (and the Lady Spikers’ subsequent loss to UST) might have given other teams confidence to handle the back-to-back UAAP queens.
We won’t be surprised to see the Lady Eagles hit a snag or 2 in the 2nd round, but expect this team to be on top of the class when all is said and done in the eliminations.
First-round stunner: Maddie Madayag
2. DLSU Lady Spikers (5-2)
Their win over Ateneo was super awesome, but hey, losing to NU and UST just showed La Salle’s vulnerability when the Lady Spikers are not focused enough.
We’ve seen how ferocious the Taft squad is when they are (not over)confident and locked-in, and coach Ramil de Jesus questioning the heart of his wards after bowing to the Golden Tigresses isn’t a good omen as they begin the 2nd round.
Nonetheless, La Salle remains the biggest threat to Ateneo’s reign, and their bevy of seniors and rising stars are the envy of the rest of the UAAP.
Areas to improve: The issue here is consistency. Skills-wise, the Lady Spikers are on top of the heap, but the girls commit a lot of errors that they negate whatever strides they’ve made. Again, it’s a mental thing. And championships are won by exhibiting mental fortitude. Let’s see if La Salle gets it all together in Round 2.
Second-round forecast: As this is a team stacked with veterans, we expect the Lady Spikers to come out smoking in the 2nd round. Don’t wait for them to lose to NU again and UST will find a tougher customer the next time out. La Salle will get a twice-to-beat advantage heading into the Final Four. Book it.
First-round stunner: Majoy Baron
3. UP Lady Maroons (4-3)
After signing up blue-chip rookies in the offseason and performing well in the Shakey’s V-League, UP entered the tournament with a lot of expectations.
Such anticipation could weigh down any team loaded with freshmen, but coach Jerry Yee has done a magnificent job of keeping the Lady Maroons focused on the big picture.
Rookies Isa Molde and Diana Carlos have lived up to the hype while Nicole Tiamzon has been amazing in shifting from spiker to setter to spiker all within a game (or sometimes, a set). The Diliman ladies are on an upward trajectory after winning their last 2 games in impressive fashion.
Areas to improve: Maturity remains a question for UP and this isn’t surprising considering the amount of rookies in the roster. But when the going gets tough, the Lady Maroons’ seniors — Tiamzon, Kathy Bersola and Princess Gaiser among others — should show leadership.
Second-round forecast: UP has been stellar in the non-scoring areas like setting, receiving and digging, thanks to sophomores Arielle Estranero (tops in receiving) and Jewel Lai (3rd in setters list). This synergy between libero and setter will greatly help the Lady Maroons stay in the Top 4. Barring a major injury, expect them to remain there.
First-round stunner: Arielle Estranero
4. FEU Lady Tamaraws (4-3)
After questions about their character surfaced after a lousy loss to Adamson, FEU bounced back with a gutsy sweep of NU to end Round 1. Toni Basas has immensely improved while Bernadeth Pons, Gyzel Sy and Rem Palma will provide the veteran presence contenders like the Lady Tamaraws need.
Coach Shaq delos Santos has a number of areas to work on here and there, but if there’s a team that should challenge Ateneo and La Salle harder in the 2nd round, it has to be FEU.
Areas to improve: These girls have a good command in both defense and offense, however they can’t seem to manage lessening their unforced errors. Also, this team has been shuffling from Sy to Kyle Negrito to Angelica Cayuna to be the playmaker and this hasn’t worked out well so far.
Sy has been good as a setter, but her height (and the lack of blocking) stops Delos Santos from playing her all game long. Their pinch-hitters should be better in the 2nd round because champion teams usually brandish well-oiled offenses.
Second-round forecast: Defense will be the key to success of the Lady Tamaraws. With rookie Ria Duremdes manning the floor for FEU and Pons using the defending skills she acquired from her beach volleyball experience, other teams will have a hard time scoring. Reception and defense are the crucial areas of volleyball, and this team has it. If they continue to perform as they did in the 1st round (except for that last 2 sets vs Adamson), they will surely make it to the Final Four.
First-round stunners: Toni Basas
5. UST Golden Tigresses (3-4)
It was a roller-coaster ride for UST, which started like a diesel engine before scoring a massive upset to end the 1st round. If there’s one thing the Golden Tigresses have proven so far, it’s the fact that they’re a team that won’t easily give up.
The entry of Rica Rivera as libero made the Espana squad a lot more dangerous. In the words of coach Kung Fu Reyes, tumama din sila. Rivera has worked well with rookie Alyssa Teope so far and don’t be shocked if Reyes sticks with this duo the rest of the way.
Sophomore spikers EJ Laure and Cherry Rondina (the tournament’s leading scorer) are born fighters and will definitely carry this team even as their seniors continue to struggle.
Areas to improve: Scoring-wise, these girls are on top. Rondina and Laure are in the top 5 of the best scorers list. However, defense is an area the Tigresses need to work on and they still have a long way to go.
They have been struggling in the first line of defense, now that last seasons’ best blocker, Ria Meneses, has not been given much minutes to play. Also, this team has to increase their eagerness to defend their side of the court to fill in for what their middle blockers lack.
Second-round forecast: Ending Round 1 with a win against DLSU, these girls are expected to carry over this momentum in the 2nd half of the season. With Rivera manning the floor and Teope confidently making plays for UST, the Espana-squad will surely rise beyond what was expected of them. Also, there is a huge possibility that they will beat their 1st round record.
First-round stunner: Cherry Rondina
6. Adamson Lady Falcons (3-4)
A 4-game losing streak that exposed internal struggles and a lack of leadership almost derailed Adamson, but coach Sherwin Meneses and his wards have rebounded with back-to-back wins — although merely surviving UE wasn’t the result they wanted.
NU’s recent slump has given the Lady Falcons an opening to sneak into the upper half of the standings and if they get their act together, the San Marcelino belles making the Final Four isn’t that farfetched.
Areas to improve: There were times in Round 1 when Adamson simply looked lost, unengaged and defeated. These girls have the talent but they need to want it. As whispers of problems within the team continue, Meneses and team captain Mylene Paat should rise and be the leaders this team badly needs.
Second-round forecast: Expect a roller-coaster Round 2. If they pour it all, we see them battling hard for the lsat semifinals slot. If not, then the Lady Falcons will finish the season just a shade above UE.
First-round stunner: Jema Galanza
7. NU Lady Bulldogs (3-4)
It was a hot start for NU in Season 78, scaring Ateneo in their opening game before beating La Salle to have a 3-1 record early on.
But it was all downhill from there for Roger Gorayeb, Jaja Santiago, Myla Pablo and Bia General, as the Lady Bulldogs sputtered against UST, FEU and UP.
The team is disjointed, uninspired and is in need of a major shakeup. Whether that happens in the 2nd round is beyond our control, but coach Gorayeb has to inspire this team and the ladies should follow his instructions if they want to make it out of this slump.
Areas to improve: Santiago, Pablo and General have to show maturity as the veterans of this NU squad. Being benched late in their loss to the Lady Maroons isn’t a good sign. Talking about stepping up is different from actually stepping up and the Lady Bulldogs only have 7 games left to redeem themselves.
Second-round forecast: UAAP teams might actually be hoping to face NU right at this very moment. And with the way they’ve played of late, it isn’t surprising at all. A miraculous comeback isn’t out of the question, as talent-wise, this team is right up there with Ateneo and La Salle.
But talent alone doesn’t win championships. Let’s see what happens next.
First-round stunner: Jasmine Nabor
8. UE Lady Warriors (0-7)
The losing streak is now 53 for UE and it’s painful to hear coach Francis Vicente feel helpless as the Lady Warriors have performed atrociously in most of their games.
A tight loss to Adamson was their best performance and experimenting with Roselle Baliton as a setter has not been good statistically (and aesthetically).
Vicente, however, won’t give up and we hope they get it together before Season 78 ends. We know a lot of volleyball fans are rooting for UE to end this infamous skid.
Areas to improve: Height-wise, the Lady Warriors have it. But their inexperience and an apparent lack of eagerness have stemmed the tide for the Recto crew. Kath Arado has been a mild disappointment after winning Rookie of the Year in 2015, Shaya Adorador needs to be better as a leader and team captain Celine Domingo has to step up. Everyone in the team is required to improve as the season goes on for UE to get a sliver of a chance to break the curse.
Second-round forecast: If these girls are able to find the right motivation, they might actually end their losing streak in the 2nd round. There is a huge possibility that they will do so as long as players like Adorador, Domingo and Judith Abil become more consistent in the scoring field.
First-round stunner: Kathleen Arado — By Arylle Magtalas