MANILA, Philippines – Despite losing key players from last season’s team – including their team captain in Jia Morado and best all-around player in Michelle Morente – expectations are still high for the Ateneo de Manila University women’s volleyball team.
After all, they are coming off an unexpected finals run in the UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball tournament. Even after losing Morado and Morente among others, they still have some of the most powerful attackers in the UAAP in their roster. Jho Maraguinot and Kat Tolentino have no problems scoring, while Maddie Madayag and Bea de Leon are among the better middle blockers in the league.
Nevertheless, the loss of their key players cannot be understated. Morado was the team’s unquestioned leader last season, and Morente’s all-around skills patched up holes in Ateneo’s defense. Their new captains, Madayag and Tolentino, are aware that they are marching into Season 80 with a retooled squad.
“They can expect us to be a very new team, with all the people that we lost last year,” said Tolentino. “This is a brand new team.”
Ateneo lost not just Morente and Morado. Last season’s starting libero, Gizelle Tan, has graduated. Players like Jamie Lavitoria and Ana Gopico, who had their moments in Season 79, did not make the cut this year.
In their place are players who still have to prove their worth in the UAAP. Deanna Wong, who played as a libero in Season 79, will be their new setter. The libero position will be shuffled among four players, including Sydney Eleazar and Dani Ravena.
Given how much their team was overhauled, there is no surprise that Tolentino and Madayag are trying to downplay expectations for their team, even as they are guardedly optimistic for the upcoming season.
“I don’t want anyone to expect anything,” said Madayag, who will be the new captain of the Lady Eagles. “The team’s just gonna play its game – the usual happy, heart strong.”
“I guess, just expect that we’ll give our best in every game, and no matter what happens, we know what we did our best,” she added.
Tolentino even pointed out that there are “really no expectation for our team,” as the Lady Eagles are now rebuilding for real.
“We’re not putting pressure on ourselves,” said the 6-foot-3 Tolentino, who established herself as one of the most powerful attackers in the league last season.
That being the case, Tolentino is also hopeful that fans will not be putting too much pressure on them.
“Hopefully, there won’t be too many fans expecting that this season will go exactly like last year,” said Tolentino. “This is a brand new team.”
“We lost like six or seven people,” she stressed. “I think that’s the main difference. It’s not necessarily the skill or the hard work. We still have that heart strong mentality. But just the fact that we lost some of our older players really hit us hard.”
Yet even though they are trying to downplay expectations, the Lady Eagles vowed to continue to play the same way they’ve done in past seasons, when they captured the affection of fans with their “heart strong” style.
“We’ll always try to give our best,” said middle blocker Bea de Leon. “We’ll always try to win.”
“It’s a tough year, as everyone has been saying,” she conceded. “(But) we’re going to fight our way through it, and make it to wherever our best gets us.”
Ateneo opens its campaign on February 4 against Far Eastern University.