10 volleyball players to watch in UAAP Season 79
As the 79th season of UAAP volleyball opens on Saturday, fans of the sport will be missing a few names.
Among them are superstars Alyssa Valdez, Ara Galang and Mika Reyes.
But the opening of a new season will also give rising stars a chance to step out of the shadows of these more popular players.
Whether as the most vital cogs in their squads or as the biggest threat to the opposing teams or as the new crowd darlings, these are the 10 volleyball players to watch this season:
10. Shaya Adorador, UE Lady Warriors
UE finally snapped a four-year losing streak when it won against Adamson in its final game last season. Senior Shaya Adorador was hugely responsible for that victory.
Adorador, who chose to stay in UE despite being recruited by schools with better programs, is probably the best player to don the Lady Warrior jersey since the graduation of Suzanne Roces. She has shown flashes of brilliance even in her stint with Generika Lifesaver in the Philippine SuperLiga, but does she have enough firepower—and more importantly, the maturity—to tow UE to more than just one win this season?
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Adorador’s high leaping ability and powerful serves are some of her strongest weapons.
9. Jema Galanza, Adamson Lady Falcons
The Lady Falcons are going into this season as underdogs minus starters Mylene Paat, Fhen Emnas and Erika Alkuino. The responsibility to carry the cudgels for the team now falls on the shoulders of Jema Galanza.
While she is recognized as a powerful hitter, Galanza had the luxury of sharing the responsibility with the likes of Paat, Bang Pineda and Amanda Villanueva before. Now, aside from being expected to deliver the points for the team, she will also be relied on to guide her young teammates. Will she deliver or will the pressure of doing all these things get to her?
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Galanza is a looker who packs a mean wallop. Do not be deceived.
8. Dawn Macandili, DLSU Lady Spikers
Dawn Macandili had a fairy tale 2016. Aside from winning the championship for DLSU, she was also named as the Most Valuable Player in the All-Filipino conference of the Philippine SuperLiga, the first libero to notch the highest plum in the tournament.
Armed with agility and the most precise reflexes, Macandili deserves all the accolades she has been getting. She, however, is going into the season without her backcourt partners in Ara Galang and Cyd Demecillio who have both graduated. The expectations for her to deliver are higher than ever.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: No questions asked, she is the best libero in the collegiate scene.
7. Isa Molde, UP Lady Maroons
Coach Gerry Yee and the Lady Maroons had a recruitment coup last season with the likes of Tots Carlos and Justine Dorog. But Isa Molde shone the brightest not just among her neophyte teammates, but also among a solid crop of rookies in the entire tournament.
Named as the Rookie of the Year last season, Molde has turned many heads not just because of her physical features, but also because of her skills. She is a two-way player who can do damage on both her offense and floor defense.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: People have been wary of the so-called sophomore jinx. Will this affect Molde? Her and UP’s fans hope not.
6. Bernadette Pons, FEU Lady Tamaraws
The Lady Tamaraws have been relatively quiet in the offseason. Aside from seeing her team drop to fourth place in the V-League Collegiate Conference, Bernadette Pons also suited up for the Petron Blaze Spikers in the Philippine Super Liga.
Despite being one of the youngest players in that team, Pons shone the brightest, often eclipsing the performance of more senior teammates Aiza Maizo and Frances Molina. Pons hopes to carry that deadly performance in the UAAP to help FEU do better than its third-place finish last season.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Despite her small frame, Pons has an explosive takeoff. She is deadliest in combination plays.
5. Jhoana Maraguinot, Ateneo Lady Eagles
Now that the era of Alyssa Valdez has ended for the Lady Eagles, will it be the time of Jhoana Maraguinot?
The Batangas native is undoubtedly a talented spiker with unrivaled hops and the capacity to provide for her team. But just like the other skilled players in the squad, Maraguinot will be playing without Valdez to bail them out if things do not go their way. Good for her and their fans, she still has teammates Julia Morado, Bea de Leon and Mitch Morente to show the league that they are just as lethal.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Maraguinot is a flashy player who can hit hard just as any player in the league. In what is considered her time to shine, will she step up or clam up?
4. EJ Laure, UST Golden Tigresses
Two years ago, Ennajie Laure was the most recruited player out of high school. Despite tempting offers from other squads, she chose to stay in UST and subsequently earned the moniker as “The Phoenix,” the great hope of the flailing UST volleyball program.
Two years since her recruitment, the Golden Tigresses have yet to break their four-year absence from the Final Four. After an inconsistent sophomore year, Laure is once again tipped to lead her squad as one of the favorites this season.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Laure is among the collegiate players who gained valuable experience in the off-season. She has shown flashes of brilliance, sometimes even outshining imports from other teams. It’s just a matter of consistency.
3. Cherry Rondina, UST Golden Tigresses
Cherry Bomb. Cherry on Top. Rondinapapagod.
Hers is a name that has inspired a number of monikers. And why not, when despite her very small frame, Cherry Rondina has emerged as one of the most explosive spikers in the league.
The queen of the UAAP beach volleyball, Rondina hopes to translate her success on the sand to the indoor courts. Together with Laure, she will form one of the deadliest one-two punches in the league, which their fans hope could bring UST back on top.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Rondina’s energy is infectious. But it can also go two different ways—either inspire her and her teammates or distract her from her game. She still needs to learn how to rein in at times.
2. Kim Fajardo, DLSU Lady Spikers
Fans of the Lady Spikers heaved a huge sigh of relief when Kim Fajardo decided to use her last playing year and understandably so because aside from her impeccable setting, Fajardo brings so much more to the court.
She was a woman on a mission last year. And there’s a good reason for those who want to take the crown from La Salle to believe that she is far from done this season, especially with the valuable experience she gained as the primary setter of the Philippine team in the Women’s Club World Championship in 2016.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Players like Fajardo and her fiercest rival Julia Morado make people appreciate the setter position more. Fajardo brings more to the table than her playmaking skills—she once outscored Alyssa Valdez last season.
1. Jaja Santiago, NU Lady Bulldogs
With her tall frame and power, Jaja Santiago is a behemoth who draws collective oohs and aahs from her fans and even the supporters of opposing teams.
After leading NU and the Foton Lady Tornadoes to different titles in the V-League and the Philippine SuperLiga, and also headlining the Philippine squads that saw action in the Asian Volleyball Championship and the Women’s Club World Championship, Santiago is coming into the tournament as the heavy favorite to notch the MVP plum won by Valdez in the last three years.
She has been used to playing with older sister Dindin and against Valdez, who were two more established players. But now that they have moved on, no one is stopping Santiago from standing head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
WHY PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH HER: Given the right set—now highly possible, thanks to her connection with Jasmine Nabor—Santiago is unstoppable. She is a dominant force whether in the middle or in the wings.
For the complete collegiate sports coverage including scores, schedules and stories, visit Inquirer Varsity.