Shakey’s V-League Season 11 opens, Ateneo and NU strike first

GAME ON TUESDAY (March 25) at the San Juan Arena

2:00PM Southwestern University-Cebu vs. St. Louis University-Baguio

4:00PM Far Eastern University vs. San Sebastian College-Recoletos

Ateneo skipper Alyssa Valdez (#2) scored 23 points in their opening day win (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

THE ARENA, San Juan City—The eleventh season of the country’s premier women’s volleyball officially kicked off before a packed house as the newly crowned UAAP champions Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) Lady Eagles and defending Shakey’s V-League (SVL) first conference titlists the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs jumpstarted their respective campaigns with contrasting victories here.

The official attendance was 5,629 paying patrons.

With all twelve participating teams taking part in the opening ceremonies, a simple parade preceded with the players emerging from the stands, much to the delight of the fans that flocked to witness the action. GMA-7 comedienne May Bautista ushered in the players in an energetic callout. The pro-Ateneo crowd drowned out the introduction of its players as the OBF faithful that went hoarse supporting the Lady Eagles’ improbable quest for its first collegiate title had fully recovered their voices in time for the opening match that featured their Katipuneras locking horns with the Adamson University Lady Falcons; the same they eliminated at the beginning of the recently concluded stepladder phase of the UAAP.

I had the opportunity to work with Ivy Remulla in calling the opening match of the season and the question I posted to her was “Is Ateneo a tired team?”

The author broadcasting the opener with analyst Ivy Remulla (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

At the beginning of the match, the feisty Lady falcons immediately took command—thanks to the return of former heart-and-soul turned Assistant Coach Pau Soriano and the reinforcement of journeywoman Patcharee Saengmuang; the former captain of the Thai national team.

Trailing 3-7 in the opening canto, reigning UAAP MVP Alyssa Valdez began revving the proverbial motor as her efforts kept the Lady Eagles within striking distance of the highly-determined Adamson squad. Ateneo also began getting valuable contribution from setter Jia Morado and utility-spiker Michelle Morente—who were actually making their first SVL appearances with the Lady Eagles. It took a total team effort for Ateneo to snare the opener, 25-19.

However, it was as if the Lady Eagles ran out of gas in the second set.

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Soriano, Saengmuang and a resurgent Sheila “Bangnita” Pineda got almost even touches from veteran playmaker May Macatuno as Adamson pounded away at the Lady Eagles’ dwindling floor defenses. UAAP Best Digger and Best Receiver Den-Den Lazaro seemed a bit slow in reacting to the power strikes of the Lady Falcons’ aggressive triumvirate and Adamson cruised to even the count via a 25-18 thrashing of Ateneo in the second set.

Former Thai national team captain Patcharee Saengmuang (#13) now a Lady Falcon (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

The third set saw Adamson race to another early six point lead, 14-8 before “Kiwi” Amy Ahomiro pulled the biggest rabbit out of her hat by unleashing four consecutive services aces coupled with kills from Valdez and Morente to keep the score close until the set’s twilight. Several defensive gems followed from the Ateneo twin-tower combo of Ahomiro and Aerieal Patnongon gave the Lady Eagles the lead for good and Ateneo clawed back to claim the third set, 25-23.

The biggest catalyst for the Lady Eagles was the omnipresent support of its followers that—like in the UAAP Finals—practically willed their squad back into contention and eventually deal Adamson the heartbreaking come-from-behind triumph.

The Lady Falcons played more cohesively in the fourth set as Pineda got a good bulk of her total scoring output there. The fifth year icon also began exerting the floor defense that made many scribes refer to her as Adamson’s “second libero”, to which Soriano, Saengmuang and the rapidly improving Mylene Paat punctuated on to keep the aggression on their side.

Still no kneepads: Sheila Pineda once again displayed her libero-like skills (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

But Valdez’s accuracy had climbed and Lazaro began doubling her efforts to keep the crowd at the edge of their seats. The “Ellavator” Ella de Jesus started finding holes in the vastly improved Adamson net defense and had the blockers hounding her, opening up more options for the heady Morado.

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In the end, it still came down to a duel between the two volleybelles that contested the UAAP scoring title as Valdez matched Pineda practically shot for shot.

Soriano was the X-Factor for the Lady Falcons as her leadership and incredible defense kept Adamson plowing ahead as Saengmuang also showed her agility in an all around game. Ateneo got just the right breaks at the right time as Patnongon’s key block followed by de Jesus’s final strike sealed the deal for the Lady Eagles and won the fourth set and the match 26-24.

Valdez led all scorers with 23 points, while Ahomiro added sixteen points—including seven services aces and four block points en route to being feted as Player of the Game. Morente finished with fourteen markers for the Lady Eagles in the win.

Amy Ahomiro gets her Player of the Game interview and pizza with Anne Remulla (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Soriano, Saengmuang and Pineda combined for 52 points, but it was still not enough as the Lady Falcons look to regroup and pick up the pieces against newbie St. Louis University on Thursday (March 28th). Ateneo’s next assignment is on Sunday (March 30th) against NCAA finalist Arellano University.

In the second match, NU needed a little over an hour to dispatch of reigning 3-time NCAA queens The University of Perpetual Help System DaLTa (UPHSD) in straight sets in its quest to defend its lone SVL crown.

Battle of the Six-Footers: 6'2" Din-Din Santiago rejects 6'0" Colleen Bravo (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

The Lady Bulldogs actually announced that their coaches would be swapping positions heading into the tiff as the new Head Coach is officially Ariel “Dong” de la Cruz and erstwhile mentor Edjet Mabbayad slides to the role of deputy.

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Din-Din ans Jaja Santiago totally controlled all activities around the net as their intimidating presence altered many shots, even those of veteran campaigner Jane Diaz and NCAA MVP Royse Tubino. In fact, so threatening was the Santiago sisters’ presence that they did not even figure heavily in the block points department as setter Ivy Perez and the “Supernatural” Aiko Urdas registered three block points apiece, followed by Jaja’s two and Din-Din’s one.

UPHSD's Royse Tubino (#15) bled for her points against NU's net defenses (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Also contributing for NU was the all around spectacular showing from open-spiker Myla Pablo, who pounced on the hapless frontline of the Lady Altas consistently.

NU hardly broke a sweat as it railroaded the Perps 25-20, 25-14, 25-15, behind Din-Din’s twelve markers, assisted by Pablo’s ten.

Pablo was named Player of the Game.

Myla Pablo got the nod for Player of the Game honors in NU's triumph (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Tubino led Perpetual Help with a game-high sixteen points as Diaz chipped-in nine in the loss. UPHSD next takes on NCAA rival San Sebastian next Tuesday (April 1st). The Lady Bulldogs test the mettle of the same Lady Stags on April 8th—a lay-off of more than two weeks.

With a record twelve teams competing this conference, we can expect many such long gaps between matches affecting all concerned squads.

There's almost not enough room for all the 12 teams' banners (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Despite several kinks in the schedule, it’s great to be back in the volleyball broadcaster’s seat for the first time since December. I will be working the games anew this Tuesday with the inimitable Noreen Go and the “Sailor Girl” herself Rheena Villamor, so I hope to catch you all at The Arena then.

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I also think the slogan the organizers have selected is very apt: Shakey’s V-League Season 11: “Where It All Started”.

Kudos to Sports Vision for pointing out the truth.


Ateneo def. Adamson—25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 26-24

AdMU—Valdez 23, Ahomiro 16, Morente 14, de Jesus 6, Patnongon 4, Morado 3, Sato 3, Lazaro (L) 0.

AdU—Soriano 19, Saengmuang 17, Pineda 16, Paat 7, Cortel 3, Macatuno 1, Listana (L) 0, Emnas 0, Lebumfacil 0, Villanueva 0.

NU def. UPHSD—25-20, 25-14, 25-15

NU—D. Santiago 12, Pablo 10, J. Santiago 9, Aganon 8, Perez 6, Urdas 6, General (L), Salazar (L) 0, Valdez 0.

UPHSD—Tubino 16, Diaz 9, Bravo 3, Cabriana 2, Eniong 2, Suyat 1, Condada (L) 0, Diocareza 0, Abcede 0, Sta. Maria 0.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email