UAAP: Tolentino growing into role as Ateneo's go-to player

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2019 04:45 PM

UAAP: Tolentino growing into role as Ateneo's go-to player 1
Kat Tolentino (10) is leading the UAAP in scoring. Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines – Kat Tolentino took a big step towards fully embracing her role for Ateneo on Sunday, when she anchored the Lady Eagles' come-from-behind triumph over Far Eastern University in the UAAP Season 81 tournament.

The Lady Eagles were down two sets to the Lady Tamaraws, and Tolentino had just two points. Their shaky service reception prevented them from running their offense, and it seemed FEU was headed for a straight sets win.

But they got better first balls in the third set, and from there Tolentino went to work. The Fil-Canadian spiker repeatedly overpowered – and outsmarted – the FEU blockers. 

By the fourth set she had gained her rhythm, and in the fifth, her confidence was palpable. Tolentino scored the clutch hits in what turned out to be a tremendous 14-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-18, 15-12 Ateneo win.

"We really worked as a team in the third and fourth sets, and it showed how much teamwork can make a huge difference," said Tolentino after the game.

"(Setter) Deanna Wong really stepped up. And she found her role, and I give her so much credit for that. Without her of course, I wouldn't be able to hit, and without the receivers, we wouldn't even be able to make a play. So it really is teamwork," she added.

Tolentino said she changed her mindset ahead of the third set, with Ateneo facing a must-win situation. 

"I realized, I can't just stand there and tip the ball or hit it light. I have to go all out. I have to spike with power and how I normally do it," said Tolentino. "It's also a change to my mindset. I knew that if we don't win this set we're done."

According to Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro, he only offered words of encouragement to Tolentino ahead of the do-or-die third set. He told the player to keep asking for the ball, knowing that she and Wong will find their rhythm sooner rather than later.

"And then, nag-click," he explained. "Then, sabi ko do variations, and don't worry, just hit it hard, may ko-cover sayo. Noong narinig niyang don't worry siguro, I guess 'yun na 'yun, talagang at will na siya."

For Almadro, Tolentino's performance against the Lady Tamaraws showed that his veteran spiker was slowly but surely growing into her role for the team – that is, to be the go-to player of the Lady Eagles.

It is a role that Almadro had given Tolentino ahead of the season, even going so far as to say that the Fil-Canadian will be the Lady Eagles' version of Marck Espejo – the five-time UAAP MVP who led the Blue Eagles to a three-peat under Almadro's guidance.

"I really have to activate her as my go-to guy inside the court. And slowly she's getting it," said Almadro. 

"'Yun ang importante sa akin, na she's getting the hang of it, na 'Girls, give it to me, I'll do my job.' 'Yun ang maganda eh," he added. "So ina-accept niya yung role niya, ina-accept niya na 'I have to do something for my team.'"

Through their first three games, Tolentino has been carrying the offensive load for Ateneo. She has scored a total of 57 points – 46 of which came on spikes. This, as the Lady Eagles have yet to get consistent offensive contributions from their open hitters.

While Almadro is impressed with how Tolentino has played so far, he also stresses that she remains a work-in-progress.

"Kaunti pa," he said. "Kaunti pa kasi may mga bagay-bagay pa na kailangan niyang matutunan. Being not a team captain, but the leader inside the court, meron pa."

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.