Thea Gagate, La Salle ‘very confident’ about UAAP title repeat
MANILA, Philippines — With a big target on their backs as defending champions, Thea Gagate and the De La Salle Lady Spikers are determined to win their second straight title in the UAAP Season 86 women’s volleyball tournament, which opens on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
All eyes are on the Lady Spikers after regaining their glory last season behind the superb rookie season of Most Valuable Player Angel Canino and La Salle assistant coach Noel Orcullo is aware that it’s tougher to be the hunted than being the hunter.
“That’s what coach keeps reminding us that we’re the defending champions and every team wants to beat us. And it’s going to be tough because we lost a lot of players,” said Orcullo, who has been coach Ramil De Jesus’ assistant in all their 12 titles, in Filipino. “All of the teams are strong.”
After exacting sweet revenge on National University in the finals to end a five-year title drought, La Salle lost the tandem of Jolina Dela Cruz and Mars Alba, who already graduated, and Fifi Sharma and Justine Jazareno after the defensive anchors decided to turn pro with the Akari Chargers in the Premier Volleyball League.
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Gagate, a fourth-year middle blocker, remained confident that their holdovers, led by Canino, Shevana Laput, Alleiah Malaluan, Julia Coronel, and Amie Provido, could still defend their throne.
“I accepted the challenge and I have to show to the young players and coaches that the seniors can lead the team inside the court,” said the two-time UAAP Best Middle Blocker in Filipino. “This is a very different team with a lot of young players so it’s really about like rebuilding.”
With De Jesus’ system and the young and talented roster, the 6-foot-2 Gagate is eager to achieve their goal following a training camp in Thailand and ruling the Shakey’s Super League National Invitationals last year.
“We’re very confident about getting the back-to-back championship and we’ll definitely work hard for it together,” she said.
Orcullo said the coaches focused on improving their players even Canino during their preseason build-up to keep themselves hungry for earning the crown anew as first runner-up NU and other schools try to dethrone them.
“Our exposure outside the country was a big boost to the team because they experienced Thailand’s level of play so at least they learned the things that we still need to address,” said the La Salle coach.