MANILA, Philippines - The Shakey's V-League unwraps its ninth season on April 24 with one of the most power-packed cast ever-assembled in years – 10 teams with varied strengths, guaranteeing a slam-bang battle for women's volleyball supremacy at The Arena in San Juan City.
Ateneo goes all out to defend the crown, former champions Adamson and San Sebastian are raring to get another title crack, Far Eastern U, Letran, University of Perpetual Help and National U are all primed up for the big one and Visayan squads Southwestern U and University of St. La Salle-Bacolod are out to make an impression.
With the league’s winningest team – University of Santo Tomas – back in the mix after a two-year hiatus, the title race is expected to be fierce, wild and wooly with no team holding a distinct advantage over the other.
"This is going to be a wide-open race. All teams have got what it takes to win," said Ricky Palou, president of the organizing Sports Vision.
"The return of UST makes its doubly interesting," he added.
Truly, focus will be on UST, which dominated the Shakey's Pizza-sponsored league with six victories, including three straight from 2009-10 until it took a leave of absence following the graduation of its star players.
To underscore its desire to put up a highly competitive team, the España-based squad has tapped the services of former MVP Mary Jean Balse and Thai ace Patcharee Sangmuang, who hope to combine well with mainstays Katrina Carangan, Jamie Morado, Maruja Banaticla, Judy Caballejo, Maika Ortiz and skipper Rhea Dimaculangan.
But Ateneo, which beat Adamson to score a breakthrough in the first conference of the league last year, remains as solid as ever with resident Thai guest player Lithawat Kesinee backstopping a squad headed by power-hitter Alyssa Valdez, Gretchen Ho, Dzi Gervacio, Jessica Bagatsing, Jamenea Ferrer and Fille Cainglet.
The Lady Falcons, chasing a third crown in the league backed by Mikasa and Accel, will be reinforced by former stars Janet Serafica and Nene Bautista and stalwarts Pau Soriano, Sheila Pineda, Angelica Quinlog, and Angelica Vasquez while the Lady Stags, winner of the 2008 second conference crown, will pin their hopes on skipper Karen Berbano, Ara Mallare, Mae Crisostomo, Michelle Gerona and veteran Joy Benito.
FEU hopes to draw the best from Charlene Gillego, Christine Agno, skipper Irish Morada, Jarita Tutanes and Wenneth Eulalio; National U will be led by team captain Maricar Nepomuceno, Jan Galang, Andrea Marzan, Rialen Sante and Carmina Aganon, while Letran will be spearheaded by Anne Villarin, Mae Tadeo, Anne Belleza, Queenie Mondejar and Angelica Santos.
Janice Abar and Angelie Dionela along with Claire Bulatao, Anne dela Paz and Mae Berba will lead Perpetual Help’s bid while SWU, led by Rapril Aguilar, Danika Gendrauli, Princess Pido, Anna Sabanal and Nerissa Villanueva, and USLS are ready to challenge the fancied Big City teams.
The 10-team field is divided into two groups with the top four teams after a single round robin elims advancing to the quarters where the qualifiers will be grouped into one. The top four will clash in the crossover semis with the No. 1 team colliding with the No. 4 squad and the Nos. 2 and 3 teams disputing the other finals berths in separate best-of-three series. The finals is also a best-of-three affair.