There's no doubt the most popular sport among the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) community is basketball. From religiously tuning in to every game to doing everything it takes to secure a ticket, everyone supports their respective teams to the fullest. In the last couple of years, however, another sport has been growing a promising fandom. Spiking and digging its way through the hearts of sports enthusiasts and campus supporters is the volleyball scene.
And as the UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament gets closer and closer, we’re shining our spotlight on the names we think are worth watching out for in Season 81.
1. Desiree Cheng
Where else can we start this list if not with the champions. The De La Salle University (DLSU) Lady Spikers made a statement in their previous victory in Season 80, claiming their third-straight UAAP crown under coach Ramil De Jesus. Establishing a new dynasty under the leadership of the former national team coach, La Salle’s consecutive dominance in the UAAP is looking to be continued this season, with star Desiree Cheng looking to be their taliswoman.
The graduating Lady Spiker is looking to end her storied UAAP career on a high note, as she looks to defend her crown from all the competition. The Outside Hitter has proven her heart and passion for the game time and time again throughout her UAAP career, overcoming a major ACL injury and poor play in her first two seasons to become the champion she is now. This season proves to be another obstacle for the star Lady Spiker, as she will have to do without the services of graduated star Lady Spikers such as Dawn Macandili and Mary Joy Baron.
As she takes the court for the last time, the “swaggy” Des Cheng also has extra motivation in the form of redemption for her rumored boyfriend, captain of the Green Archers, Kib Montalbo who failed to gain La Salle a seat in post-season action.
No matter what the result may be, we have no doubt that Des Cheng will be laying it all out on the court for her last season in the UAAP, and we can’t wait to watch.
2. Milena Assindrini
The title of Rookie of the Year is always going to raise some eyebrows. We’ve seen players rise and crumble because of the weight of expectations leveled on them. For second year Fil-Italian hitter Milena Alessandrini, this title does not only mean carrying the weight of expectations, but also the entire University of Sto. Tomas (UST) community, who is rooting for their team to bounce back this 2019.
The UST Golden Tigresses suffered the second-worst Season 80 among UAAP teams, with the team only winning 4 out of their 14 games in the tournament. More bad news came in the form of their Season 81 captain Tin Francisco being sidelined this season due to injury, and the return of Season 77 rookie of the year EJ Laure being delayed for a season.
While experience may not be in their side, the Golden Tigresses can look to Milena Alessandrini for production this season. The towering Fil-Italian has already proven her heart for her team when she poured in 31 points against Adamson during a pre-season battle in the PVL, all that despite nursing a shoulder injury. Though she may not yet speak English or Filipino with proficiency, she is certainly looking to prove her literacy in the game we all love so much out there in the court.
3. Isa Molde, Tots Carlos, and the rest of the UP Lady Fighting Maroons
The once queens of the UAAP volleyball court have fallen on hard times in recent memory. The inaugural champions of the tournament, all the way back in the first season of the UAAP, The UP Lady Fighting Maroons have found themselves reaching the Final Four only once in the past 15 years, missing out on post-season action last year.
And yet as the latest iteration of the UAAP Volleyball competition approaches, everyone in the volleyball scene cannot stop talking about these Lady Maroons, and the die-hard spirit they exhibit on the court. Led by veteran star Isa Molde and team captain Tots Carlos, the UP Lady Fighting Maroons are currently the team at the forefront of our minds as the UAAP season comes closer and closer.
With impressive wins in the collegiate divisions of both the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) and the Premier Volleyball Leauge (PVL), the UP Lady Maroons have announced to the world that they are a force to be reckoned with. With second-year coach Godfrey Okumu settling into his tactician role, Molde and Carlos stepping up to be the stars we all expected them to be, and the entire UP community behind them, there is no telling how far these Lady Maroons can go this UAAP season.
4. Michelle Morente
The rivalry of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) vs DLSU runs deep in every UAAP fan’s heart. Even if you’re not a member of either of the two schools, you’d be well aware of the passion and importance that this competition gives players and fans alike. Not many have been willing to switch allegiances in the UAAP, and yet, former ADMU Lady Eagle Michelle Morente has jumped ship to the rival Lady Spikers.
After being ruled out of ADMU for academic reasons this past 2017, the experienced opposite will look to reinvigorate her UAAP career, this time in green. Joining the defending champions, Morente is looking to prove how her skill, experience and love for the game has not ceased, despite not suiting up in a UAAP court in years. We can’t wait to see how Morente will establish her comeback in the months to come.
5. Dani Ravena
Excellence in blue and white runs deep in the Ravena bloodline. With her elder brothers, Kiefer and Thirdy, already establishing their legacy in the Men’s Basketball tourney with two championships each, second year libero Dani Ravena is out to prove that the special Ravena gene is strong in her veins as well.
Despite standing at a mere 5’3, in contrast to her brothers’ towering heights, Dani has shown that she definitely has no shortage of heart. The former back-up setter was converted into a libero for her rookie season this past Season 80, and found a comfortable role in the heart of Ateneo’s defense. Her solid debut season for the Lady Eagles found her in the running for the rookie of the year award and earned her praises and plaudits from the Ateneo community and volleyball die-hards.
No matter how big the shadows of her brothers may cast, Dani is definitely on her way into becoming a Queen Eagle in her own right.
6. Adamson Univeristy's Prized Recruits
With the departure of many of the Lady Falcons’ best players, such as Season 80 captain Jema Galanza, and starters Mylene Paat, Fhen Emmas, and Jellie Tempiatura, the team is currently looking towards the future for their success.
Prized recruit Trisha Genesis is seen to be the fulcrum of this recruitment class, with the highly-touted rookie rejecting offers from the Lady Eagles and the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs in order to join the Adamson team. The 5'7" spiker has already impressed for the Lady Falcons this off-season and is being thought of as the next big thing in Women’s Volleyball.
Alongside Genesis, the Lady Falcons have acquired the services of spiker-turned-libero Hannah Infante, who has already shown her skill and dedication for Adamson in the beach volleyball competition of the UAAP.
Though this team may be young, they are looking towards making an impact on the more experienced teams this season.
7. Jennifer Nierva
With NU’s star spiker Jaja Santiago bidding her final farewell to the NU community this past Season 80, NU is looking towards life beyond the Santiago sisters in the UAAP. At the center of this rebuilding phase is prized, home-grown rookie Jennifer Nierva, a defensive stalwart that the Lady Bulldogs are looking to build around.
Though expectations for the team may not be as high as they were in recent memory, prized rookie Nierva has proven in her pre-season play how she is an able and valuable addition to the team. Cool and collected defensively and able on the offensive end, Nierva seems to be the stabilizing figure for the NU Lady Bulldogs’ defensive woes.
She may be the youngest player on the court, but Nierva is certainly a player to watch out for this season.
The 81st iteration of the Women’s Volleyball tournament of the UAAP is set to kickstart this February 19. While we have no idea what this exciting season will bring, we’re more than certain that the rising stars mentioned above will provide quality action and never-before-seen passion in the court.