MANILA, Philippines -- The University of the Philippines (UP) has emerged as the surprise package of the UAAP Season 84 women's volleyball tournament, midway through the first round of the eliminations.
The Fighting Maroons have won their first three assignments and on Tuesday, they pulled off a shock victory against University of Santo Tomas (UST), a team expected to contend for a spot in the Final 4.
Eya Laure exploded for a season-high 28 points but UP shut down the other Golden Tigresses to claim a 25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-22 victory. They got 16 points from Jewel Encarnacion and 15 from rookie standout Alyssa Bertolano, who is quickly emerging as a fan favorite for her explosive performances.
"Katulad ng sinasabi namin, utak at puso po talaga ang pinapagana namin. Kung ano ang plano para sa amin ni coach, sinusunod lang po talaga namin," said Encarnacion, the UP captain.
Not much was expected from the Fighting Maroons this season after their veterans -- led by Tots Carlos and Isa Molde -- turned professional upon the cancellation of Season 82 in March 2020. But Encarnacion said that the potential of their squad has always been there.
"Talagang napakalaki po ng potential ng team at sobrang masaya po ako dahil unti-unti na po naming napapakita," she said. "Sabik na sabik pa po talaga kami, kulang pa po 'yun, marami pa po kaming ilalabas, abangan niyo lang po."
UP coach Godfrey Okumu was not surprised by their strong start to the season, which included a sweep of University of the East and a five-set marathon against Far Eastern University.
"Every team is working towards winning as many games as they can, to qualify for the playoffs. So our intention up to now is to try and win all the games, if possible," he explained. "I don't know what will happen, but our intention is to go out there and fight it out. So we don't leave things to chance."
"The girls are fighting hard, yes it might surprise so many people, but I think we are ready," he declared. "We are the strongest contenders for this time around. So, we're out here to fight, like any other team."
Okumu has gotten superb contributions from Bertolano, who has scored 60 points through her first three UAAP games -- tied for No. 1 in the league along with UST's Laure.
But on Tuesday, with Bertolano struggling early, UP saw a bevy of players step up -- from Encarnacion to veteran middle blocker Lorie Bernardo and reserve Nina Ytang.
With setter Marianne Sotomil (4.17 excellent sets per set) quarterbacking the Maroons, Okumu is confident of their continued improvement as the season goes along.
"We said before, when we started this campaign, we don't want to have the best players in the team. We want to have the best team. That's what we're working towards, having the best team," he said.
The Fighting Maroons will be tested on Thursday when they take on Adamson University, with the Lady Falcons brimming with confidence after beating defending champion Ateneo de Manila University.