MANILA, Philippines – They may have failed to break a long title drought this year, but the future remains very bright for University of Santo Tomas (UST) in UAAP women's volleyball.
Season 81 saw the Golden Tigresses return to the finals, as they dethroned De La Salle University in the Final 4 to roar to the championship round for the first time in eight years. Unfortunately, their 9-year wait for the title was extended, as Ateneo de Manila University downed them in three games.
It was a bittersweet conclusion to the UAAP career of Sisi Rondina, who earned MVP honors this year after a sensational campaign, but ultimately could not add an indoor title to her collection of four beach volleyball crowns.
"'Yung outcome ng laro, medyo nakaka-frustrate," admitted UST head coach Kungfu Reyes after the Golden Tigresses bowed to the Lady Eagles, 17-25, 22-25, 22-25, on Saturday in front of a packed Mall of Asia Arena.
Reyes made it clear that they achieved plenty in Season 81. Not only did they make it back to the finals, but they also brought the UST community together.
"Hindi lang namin natapos ng mas maayos," he said. "Well, deserve naman ng Ateneo."
"Sa amin, 'yung outcome ng finals is medyo masakit para sa amin. 'Yung trinabaho namin, sabi nga namin kung saan abutin ang trinabaho namin, ipagpapasalamat namin," he added.
Reyes is confident that their finals appearance in Season 81 is just the beginning for UST. They will lose Rondina to graduation, along with libero Rica Rivera, but he fully expects his young core to make a leap in Season 82.
Chief among them is Eya Laure, the Rookie of the Year who was hampered by an ankle injury in the finals. Still, the rookie played through the pain, and Reyes also got solid games from youngsters such as Ysa Jimenez, Kecey Galdones, and Janine Balcorta.
"Great future ahead, kasi may mga ganyan tayong player na nakikipaglaban talaga, kahit anong sakit," Reyes said of Laure, who turned her ankle early in the third set of Game 2, then returned to a massive ovation late in the frame.
The lessons from their loss in the finals will motivate them for seasons to come, he added.
"Biggest learning dito, 'yung don't stop," said Reyes. "Don't stop learning."
"Tuloy lang, tuloy lang namin 'yung sinimulan namin. Para sa UST pa rin, para sa mga nagbabalik na alumni na medyo matagal na nawala na ito na ulit si women's volleyball," he added.
The Tigresses are "on the right track, waiting for the right time," he also said. Reyes would have wanted that "right time" to come in Season 81, but it was not meant to be for his team.
Still, he can afford to be patient. UST has a promising core of players, and should welcome back former Rookie of the Year Milena Alessandrini and veteran middle blocker Tin Francisco back next year after both players suffered knee injuries.
Another possible returnee is EJ Laure, another former Rookie of the Year and the older sister of Eya.
"Tuloy lang ang laban," said Reyes.
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