FEU Lady Tamaraws: Thirsty for Thirty

On March 2, 2008, the San Juan Arena was jam-packed, with a sea of blue, and white, and green, and gold swarming the venue.

The crowd went wild as they saw the scoreboard flashed 14-9. The game nears its end. One team will be crowned UAAP champions anew.

The trailing team, a stacked Adamson squad, refused to go down without a fight as they knew that fifth sets don’t stop at 14.

The Lady Falcons sent in their last card.

Jennifer Hiponia, Adamson’s service specialist, replaced Michelle Segodine for the serve, in an attempt to extend the match – an improbable but still a possible mission.

The first referee whistled to signal the start of the rally.

But before Hiponia fired a serve, there was already an ear splitting chant of “FEU! FEU! FEU!” from the sons and daughters of Morayta.

They knew it. They already smelled the blood in the water. They knew that the game was out of reach for the San Marcelino volleybelles.

Coach Nes Pamilar did not even blink and did not waste his time-outs.

And in an anti-climactic ending, the Lady Tamaraws need not sweat in earning the final point as Hiponia’s serve went out-of-bounds.

There and then, the winningest UAAP women’s volleyball team added another jewel — their 29th —- to their crown, solidifying their status as Queen of UAAP volleyball.

Ten years after, a new herd of Lady Tamaraws are roaring to bring back the lost glory of the former dynasty in the UAAP women’s volleyball.

RETURN TO GLORY DAYS

That championship in Season 70 was their last — in a decade.

In Season 71, gunning for a back-to-back champs, the green-and-gold squad bowed down to the DLSU Lady Spikers in three games.

That win kickstarted a new dynasty in women’s volleyball- with La Salle starring in ninth-straight UAAP finals and winning seven crowns in the succeeding seasons.

And the FEU Lady Tamaraws?

Either they were thrown out of the Final Four picture or got clobbered by higher seeds in the semifinals.

Their worst performance was in Season 73, when the rookie-laden FEU recorded a disappointing 5-9 win-loss slate, enough for a sixth place finish.

Returning Mecaila Irish Mae Morada was the lone cornerstone of that young FEU squad but freshman players Gyzelle Sy, Mayjorie Roxas, and Rosemarie Vargas have already shown a lot of promise.

The farthest they reached was third spot in Season 78, when the troika of Bernadette Pons, Remy Palma, and veteran setter Sy steered the team to a 9-5 record, along with fresh recruits Jerrili Malabanan, Jeanette Villarreal, and Toni Rose Basas.

They even snatched a game against La Salle in the semi-finals, only to surrender in the do-or-die game in a heartbreaking five-setter loss. The Lady Tams almost reached the finals that time.

But teams do not subscribe to the word ‘almost.’ They need to work hard.

In the following season, FEU returned to the semis and lost to Ateneo during Palma’s swan song. It was another ‘almost’ for the Lady Tamaraws.

They fell short anew in reaching their ultimate goal – the finals.

But the ladies moved on and vowed to return stronger next season. They grew tired of the word “almost.’ They wanted more than “almost.”

Going back to the finals and winning the championship – these are their target- a perfect gift to their school, who also serves as the host of the overall tournament.

Then, they came back in Season 80 – sharper, more dangerous, and brimming with arsenal – eager to reclaim the glory days that went missing for a decade.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

The crew of Pons, Basas, Villareal, Kyle Negrito, Celine Domingo, Heather Guino-o, and liberos Kyle Atienza and Buding Duremdes have shown a different FEU squad this season – a team who is a monster at the net and floor defense, a team with high-octane offense.

They shocked the world with a five set victory over two-time champions Ateneo Lady Eagles in the opening weekend, busted NU Lady Bulldogs in both rounds, and gave DLSU a massive scare in two five-setter matches.

With the team captain, Pons, making the most of her final year, she went on to deliver triple-double performance after another triple-double performance. True enough, #MVPons is the perfect monicker for her.

But unlike other seasons, the scoring load is not centered on Pons. FEU has really found the right pieces to match or even surpass the firepower from perennial heavyweights.

This time, they have Domingo, a gem of a middle blocker who leads the tournament in blocking, Negrito, a scoring setter who is a nightmare from the service line, Villareal, Basas, and Guino-o who can contribute decent numbers, and the duo of Atienza and Duremdes who are a solid force in the backline.

Armed with a twice-to-beat advantage coming into the semifinals, there is no turning back now for the Lady Tamaraws, who are in the perfect situation to clinch the first UAAP Season 80 finals berth.

“The Final Four is not enough,” said Pons. “It’s time we take this,” she added.

Clearly, they do not want to settle for less.

They are ready. Title number 30 is coming.

But they have to work hard for it — for the school, the doubters, and those who did not leave them in that decade of a drought.

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