MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles will still have team captain Maddie Madayag and open spiker Kat Tolentino for their campaign in UAAP Season 81.
This, according to new head coach Oliver Almadro, who confirmed Sunday that both players have committed to return to the Lady Eagles for next year's women's volleyball tournament.
"Maddie will stay; Kat, I'm sure, she'll play," said Almadro, who took over the post vacated by Thai coach Anusorn "Tai" Bundit following the Lady Eagles' exit in the Final 4 of UAAP Season 80.
Madayag, Ateneo's skipper and middle blocker, averaged 9.2 points per game for the Lady Eagles in Season 80, and was sixth in the league in blocking with an average of 0.57 block per set.
Tolentino, meanwhile, normed 13.2 points per game. Her total of 185 points in the tournament was good for ninth in the league. She was also the seventh most efficient attacker in Season 80, converting 30.89% of her hits.
That Tolentino is sure to return is a relief for Almadro, who will no longer have the services of Jhoana Maraguinot after the veteran spiker opted to forego her final playing year. Maraguinot led Ateneo with 14.5 points per game last year.
Still unsure, however, is the return of popular middle blocker Bea de Leon, who like Madayag is set to enter her final season of eligibility in the UAAP.
Almadro said he is confident that de Leon will play after initial discussions with the athlete, but maintained that the decision is up to the player known by fans as "BDL."
"So let's see kung anong final decision ni Bea," said Almadro.
"I don't want to speculate na hindi or oo. I want na manggaling sa kanya. Because, if it comes from her, it will be coming from her heart," he added.
The coach hopes that de Leon "will heed the call" of the Ateneo community and the Lady Eagles' fans to play in her final season.
"You know naman Bea... may pusong atleta 'yan, so hindi papayag 'yan ng basta-basta. So I'm sure with the guidance of Ateneo na binigay sa kanya, she's a woman for others, so she will heed the call. I'm confident she will heed the call of the Ateneo community and the fans to consume her last playing year," said Almadro.
"Kasi sabi ko naman sa kanila, this is a gift from the Lord, 'yung talent ninyo is a gift from the Lord. So you have to share it, you have to show it to the community, to the fans that really loves them," he added.
If de Leon returns, it will be a big boost to a rebuilding Ateneo program that saw its streak of six consecutive finals appearances come to a screeching halt in Season 80.
The Lady Eagles still exceeded expectations by making it to the Final 4, and for a while it appeared that they would even claim a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals. But they ended their season with three straight losses, beginning with a costly loss to University of the Philippines, and ending with a defeat to Far Eastern University in the Final 4.
Bundit bid his goodbye to the team soon after their semifinals exit, and Almadro was announced as the new head coach of the Lady Eagles in May.
The architect of Ateneo's dynasty in men's volleyball is hopeful that the Lady Eagles – not just the three veterans – will all accept the new challenge that is in front of them.
"Siyempre marami ring nawala sa Ateneo Lady Eagles, rebuilding din 'yung Ateneo Lady Eagles, so I'm coming from scratch din also," he said. "'Yung pressure will always be there, but what's important is, I have to make sure na 'yung players ko, gustong-gusto and payag sila sa challenge na ibibigay ko sa kanila."
"Kagaya ng ibinigay sa akin ng Ateneo na challenge, I will ask my players to accept the challenge also, na ibalik 'yung winning attitude, ibalik 'yung intensity nila, and then 'yung heart nila sa paglalaro," he added.
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