Make volleyball a national passion as well
THE CONTINUING saga of the La Salle-Ateneo rivalry has another permanent battlefield in sports.
UAAP womens volleyball has been dominated by the two teams over the last five years, marking a major shift from previous power structures in the tournament.
In the first game of the current finals, the Lady Spikers were obviously recharged with their survival over Far Eastern University who forced them into a do-or-die game by bucking La Salle’s twice to beat advantage in the semis.
Clearly, volleyball is a mind game separated by the net: There is no way to physically contain or restrain the attacks of an opponent except by blocking and digging up spiking missiles. La Salle did not blink this time around compared to the last game of the classification round when Ateneo tired the Lady Spikers out in five grueling sets. La Salle’s three-set win also gushed from rekindling their energy after being down early in the first set in Game One.
La Salle and Ateneo are latecomers, if you will, in the UAAP volleyball wars. There was a time when FEU and University of Santo Tomas were the power teams of the league. La Salle slowly became competitive and began winning titles while the Lady Eagles often struggled to avoid the cellar.
This has changed substantially recently with the aggressive recruitment of both schools. Getting talented high school players used to be limited to provincial sorties or trips to the Palarong Pambansa. Now the recruitment also includes looking more keenly at the WNCAA and other tournaments where many private schools in the capital region participate. Quite often and because La Salle and Ateneo have been winning programs of late, many parents and coaches also bring young players to open tryouts of the two schools.
The current generation of players has grown taller as seen in the strong frontlines of almost all the UAAP school teams. Basketball is no longer the only sports option of tall, lanky if not awkward young girls. With so many volleyball camps during the summer vacation, young players get chances to learn the many skills of the sport and subsequently get spotted by eager coaches and athletic directors.
Volleyball’s popularity is most welcome as an addition to all the other spectator sports in the country. However, it is still hoped that this abundance of talent not only in Ateneo and La Salle but also in the other school and club teams can be harnessed for a truly competitive national squad that can restore the country to the elite of Southeast Asian volleyball.
We all know that the Philippines has won volleyball gold medals in the SEA Games, long before television and social media made the game popular today. Channeling the fire and passion from the La Salle-Ateneo rivalry into a viable national team will secure the sport’s place in the hearts of a nation that has already embraced it.
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