The fancied and much-ballyhooed University of Santo Tomas (UST) Golden Tigresses fell with a loud thud on opening day of UAAP Season 79.
This squad is arguably one of the best they are parading in years as it is stocked with talented and experienced veterans who performed well during the past V-League and PSL season. They’ve also got some terrific youngsters on the squad who will carry the torch when the seniors graduate.
And that bench did come into play only because head coach Kungfu Reyes was desperately in search of answers to Ateneo’s inspired play (on a surprisingly short rotation) as UST got bushwhacked in three sets.
The Lady Eagles came in with a lot of energy that the Golden Tigresses failed to match. They served well and played great defense. Although UST made a game of it at certain points, I got the sense that Ateneo wasn’t troubled. There seemed to be a moment when UST looked ready to turn the match around in the third set. Some folks who sat around me wondered if Ateneo coach Anusorn Bundit should have gone to his bench but the Thai tactician stuck to his seven-woman rotation. The Lady Eagles held.
I recall during the past V-League Collegiate Conference that some once more wondered if the Lady Eagles should have lined up Alyssa Valdez as a guest player. Not doing so was good because it gave a lot of confidence and exposure to the holdovers and to rookie Jules Samonte. No doubt, Bundit will give his deep and talented bench playing time over the course of the season. And he has if he needs to keep their confidence high.
And so life after Valdez got off to a great start with the Lady Eagles clinching second place in the said V-League tourney. That served them well. Now the team is buoyed by the return of two missing pieces from last season – Mich Morente and Maddie Madayag. Morente was unavailable due to academics while Madayag sustained a season-ending injury early in the second round. Furthermore, outside hitter Kat Tolentino who got injured even before the past UAAP season began gave a very good account of herself.
The impressive form of the three left quite a few to postulate the what-ifs for the last UAAP finals. That’s all done.
This is now.
Outside their energy, the first thing I noticed was Ateneo’s defense at the net (see the energetic Bea De Leon and Madayag) and on the floor. They were maligned for the latter during the past year. At least for the first match, they seemed to have addressed that.
Gizelle Tan certainly gained lot more confidence after she copped the Best Libero award during the past V-League Conference. And that says something about her talent as she has won both Best Setter and Best Libero in consecutive collegiate conferences.
With their floor defense better that gave setter Jia Morado ample time and a whole lot of options to set up her teammates. In truth, I thought that the fourth year playmaker had UST befuddled as she kept them guessing with her set-ups and plays. I thought that she was much more creative than her UST counterparts, Alex Cabanos and Alina Bicar.
Of course, UST had all sorts of reception problems that prevented their setters from doing a great job.
I thought that UST had to really play great to beat Ateneo. And they could, no doubt about that. In my pre-season previews, I pointed out that while the Golden Tigresses have the talent and depth, the onus is on them to show they have the maturity and mental toughness to get over the hump.
What surprised me though was Chloe Cortez being kept on the bench. I thought that she had gained a lot of experience in the PSL for Generika and that for the Golden Tigresses in the past UAAP Season 78, she played quality minutes. Yet, she came in late in the second set.
I understand Coach Kungfu going deep into his bench when Cherry Rondina and Pam Lastimosa were not delivering. I was surprised though that Carla Sandoval wasn’t given much playing time. When she came in the second set, she was mostly at the back as UST was on their heels. Sandoval scored only two points but she should have been set up more.
Now they really have to work on things as their next opponent are the defending champions, La Salle.
As for Ateneo, their defense will be tested this Wednesday when they face Jaja Santiago and National University.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.