The 1st round of the UAAP Season 78 women’s volleyball tournament is over and it’s almost time to step on the gear and move on to the next phase where the action is expected to double as the teams muscle their way into getting one of the coveted post-season slots.
But before all that, let’s all give credit to where it is due and recognize the individual players who made the twisted team standings possible, making this year one of the most exciting races in recent memory.
Disclaimer: This is not an MVP race list. This is solely based on the performances of the players during the 1st round of the tournament and the impact they’ve made for their respective teams.
10. The outside hitters barge into the top 10
It took time for these girls to heat up but it was all worth the wait as EJ Laure, Bernadeth Pons and Jho Maraguinot finally showed everyone towards the tail end of the 1st round that they, too, are top caliber outside hitters.
A new breed of outside hitters is truly taking over as the imminent graduation of Alyssa Valdez, Ara Galang and Myla Pablo will soon happen.
EJ Laure (UST)
While the talk of the town so far is Cherry Rondina, UST’s team captain EJ Laure finished round 1 strong, ranking 5th in scoring—106 points—and zooming to #4 in spiking with 36.72% success rate. Laure is also ranked as the 10th best digger in the league, making her an all-around threat for the Golden Tigresses.
Bernadeth Pons (FEU)
Though Toni Rose Basas still reigns supreme in Morayta, Pons is slowly but surely inching her way back to greatness after a minor back injury, tallying 79 points to rank 12th in scoring, 31.70% efficiency in attacking—9th in the league—while also breaking into the top 10 of the best diggers list.
Back injury? What back injury?
Jho Maraguinot (Ateneo)
Ranking 21st best scorer is not impressive? Try being the most efficient attacker in the league so far with an accuracy 43.97%. Now that is impressive.
With her precision, she has dethroned Jaja Santiago and surpassed even her teammate Alyssa Valdez which is a good sign for Ateneo coming into the next round.
9. Defense Ministers
By this time, the rest of the field must have already figured out why La Salle is having a good showing so far this 2016. There is no denying that the new and improved Dawn Macandili has been the most vital factor in the Lady Spikers’ 5-2 run in round 1.
1st in digging and 2nd in receiving, Macandili spelled the difference between last year and this year’s iteration of the Taft squad.
On a side note, however, her last 2 outings were polarizing to say the least. She was so on-point against Ateneo, a game La Salle won in straight sets, while she struggled against UST, who they lost to in 3 sets.
You see how crucial she is to La Salle’s winning formula?
Ayel Estranero’s last 2 games in the 1st round could only be described in 1 word: inspired.
Though she is not in the best diggers list —partly because she shares the digging duties with Pia Gaiser—Estranero zoomed to the top of the best receivers list, dislodging and leaving Dawn Macandili by a mile with a whopping 35.17 % efficiency.
With her performance on-point, the domino effect was on full display when UP survived UST and dismantled NU to close the 1st phase of the tournament in the upper half of the rankings.
Oh what a come-from-behind move from Estranero.
8. Revenge will be best served cold
Ateneo ended the 1st round on a sour note when it bowed to arch rival La Salle in a surprising sweep, ending the team’s celebrated 24-game winning streak in the UAAP.
Veteran spikers Alyssa Valdez and Amy Ahomiro shared the same sentiment saying the inexperience of first-timers Maddie Madayag and Jamie Lavitoria got the best of the young guns.
Nonetheless, the Lady Eagles are still on top of the rankings (6-1) and Madayag continues to enjoy being the best server in the league with an average of 0.73 aces per set.
Now that she already got her feet wet after her baptism of fire, expect the Davaoeña, who also happens to be the 7th best blocker in the league, to shrug off the loss and soar even higher in the next round because that’s how the Lady Eagles roll, right?
Ready or not, mad Maddie is coming for you.
7. The rookie wunderkinds
Legendary La Salle head coach Ramil de Jesus said so himself. This year’s Rookie of the Year will most probably come from UP.
Boasting off perhaps the most talented freshman set in recent memory, the Lady Maroons have turned things around for the embattled team, finishing the 1st round with an impressive 4-3 record which gained them the 3rd spot.
Based on de Jesus’s observation, Isa Molde is the leading ROY candidate and for all the good reasons. Molde is the only rookie in the top 10 best scorers—7th with 90 points—while also doing damage on the defensive end, ranking 7th in digging.
UP’s other explosive rookie, Diana Carlos, is not too far behind in scoring—11th with 80 points—while landing in 8th place in the best blockers category, being the only non-middle blocker in the top 10.
There are plenty of battle-ready rookies this season UP’s newest 1-2 punch came in with the most number of ammunition so far.
6. The Baron of defense
Majoy Baron is currently 10th in scoring with 81 points and and 7th in serving. But her most noteworthy numbers come from blocking where she is leading the league with 1.04 blocks per set.
Baron does not say much but her quiet intensity when she is guarding the net resounds even with more than 16,000 people in attendance last Saturday during the Ateneo-La Salle match at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
In the battle against the Lady Eagles, Baron was La Salle’s second-best source of points, chipping in 10 points off 6 kills, 3 blocks and an ace. Fast forward to their last outing in the 1st round against UST which they lost, the middle blocker repeated the feat, finishing with 10 points anew built on 5 attacks, 4 offensive blocks and an ace.
What does these numbers tell you? The spiker can deliver the goods day in and day out. Unfortunately, she can’t do it alone.
5. A rose with thorns
One of the biggest—if not the biggest—surprise performances in the 1st round belongs to FEU’s Toni Rose Basas.
At this point, Bernadeth Pons’s need to rest in the early goings of the tournament could now be considered a blessing in disguise for the Morayta squad for it has allowed Basas to blossom into one of the most effective attackers in the league, ranking 5th with 36.09% success rate.
Fast forward to the last couple of games of the Lady Tamaraws, the Pons-Basas combo did damage to powerhouse teams like NU, making the offense of FEU more unpredictable as the tournament progresses.
The Tacloban native is also in the best scorers list (3rd) and best servers category (5th) which legitimizes her claim to being one of the best wing spikers in the league.
To her team, Basas is, indeed, a rose. To the opponents, however, she is all thorns.
4. What a gem
It was a bad-start-good-finish kind of 1st round for Adamson after it ended its 4-game skid with back-to-back wins to remain in contention for a Final Four slot wth a 3-4 record.
There was nothing bad with how Jema Galanza started and finished level 1, however, as the outside hitter was consistently pouring in points for the San Marcelino squad averaging 16.85 ppg to rank as the 2nd best scorer in the league.
She was scoring when they were losing, she was scoring when they were winning which made the Laguna native one of the top spikers to watch out for this 2016.
Galanza is ranked 6th in spiking, 8th in digging and 9th in receiving. An outside hitter who shoulders a major load of the scoring department for Adamson and at the same time delivers on the defensive end. Sounds familiar, huh?
The tradition of the likes of Angela Benting and Bang Pineda lives on as the crown is passed on to its new rightful owner, a one of a kind gem, Jema Galanza.
3. Volcanoes ready to erupt
We’ve all waited in numerous game days but it hasn’t happened yet. Both Alyssa Valdez of Ateneo and Jaja Santiago of NU are yet to showcase their lethal forms in Season 78.
The Ateneo-La Salle tussle last weekend could have been the perfect platform for Valdez to give everyone a glimpse of her capabilities but with no good 1st ball, the plays got too predictable for the Lady Eagles which limited the outside hitter to only 11 points.
The reigning MVP maintains MVP numbers, raking in 113 points (4th in scoring), 40.59% success rate in attacks (3rd in spiking), 0.59 aces per set and (3rd in serving) but one just can’t shake-off the feeling of wanting more from her on her last year.
It is the same case for Valdez’s fellow national team player, Jaja Santiago.
Though the 6-foot-5 spiker is 6th in scoring (97 points), 2nd in spiking (41.27% efficiency) and 5th in blocking, PH volleyball fans know she can do so much better.
With NU’s 3 consecutive losses, though, the path back to the post-season has just become more winding for Santiago and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs.
Well, both players have 7 more games to play in the eliminations and considering their body of work in the past few years, it won’t be that hard for both of them to catch up but only if they truly will themselves to do so.
Good receive leads to good plays and good plays are turned into a thing of beauty when these two go up in the air for a kill. If NU and Ateneo master that, a 2nd round eruption ill get the rest of the field in big trouble.
2. The setter top scores
When was the last time a setter top scored in a game? Esteemed volleyball analyst Mozzy Ravena can’t remember if the feat already happened in her lifetime prior to Saturday’s Ateneo-La Salle match.
But yes, it happened. La Salle team captain Kim Fajardo made it happen.
Carrying her team from start to finish with an all-around performance, the playmaker waxed hot with 13 points which came from serves, blocks and attacks. In Ravena’s words, Fajardo was playing the game of her life.
The Batangas native kept her grip on the top spot of the best setters list with an average of 8.17 plays per frame followed by Jia Morado’s 7.18 and Jewel Lai’s 6.27.
After the win, Fajardo also had a temporary hold on the #1 best server slot thanks to her 7 service aces but La Salle’s poor showing against UST made her drop to #2.
Fajardo wants this year’s title. You can see the hunger in her eyes every time she steps on the taraflex court. What she needs to do now is to command everyone in her team to keep their eyes on the real goal.
Celebrating the big win is okay but slacking on your next game is most definitely not. It is anyne’s ball game at this point. And a champion team knows to never underestimate any opponent regardless of the team standings.
UST’s Cherry Rondina has no concept of feeling tired.
You’ll see her digging the ball and right away approaching for the kill. You’ll see her covering her own botched attempt at an attack and with the blink of an eye, she back pedals to give it another try. Nobody works as hard as this girl inside the four corners of the UAAP volleyball court.
Rondina knows that for a 5-foot-5 spiker, she is at a disadvantage. She makes up for it, though, with the passion that is evident whenever she celebrates her hard-earned points Ging Balse-style. You know, fist pump, bobbing her head while kneeling on the floor.
Nobody created as much impact so far as the Cebuana especially considering how she was supposed to come from the bench again had Pam Lastimosa did not tear her ACL.
As of March 3rd, Rondina is leading the scoring department with a whopping 129 points. She is also 7th in spiking, 4th in serving while also finishing the 1st round as the 5th best digger of the league.
She is like a gift that keeps on giving. Somebody find this girl a battery endorsement because with the rate she is going, Rondina is truly long-lasting. — By Mac Dionisio