By Jerome Lagunzad
(Mall of Asia Arena)
8 a.m. — Adamson vs NU (M)
10 a.m. — La Salle vs UST (M)
2 p.m. — Adamson vs NU (W)
4 p.m. — La Salle vs UST (W)
Jaja, NU take on Adamson.
Even without ace setter Kim Fajardo, powerhouse La Salle appears to be just fine as the Lady Spikers gun for a “three-peat” in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament that gets going today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Touted libero Dawn Macandili, reigning league MVP Majoy Baron and veteran Kim Kianna Dy are back for another tour of duty, putting La Salle as the clear-cut favorite in the eight-team field filled with familiar faces and confident newbies.
The Lady Spikers, aiming for their 10th overall crown under the tutelage of brilliant mentor Ramil De Jesus, have the chance to fire an early warning as they take on the University of Santo Tomas Tigresses at 4 p.m.
National University, led by towering Jaja Santiago, squares off with retooled Adamson at 2 p.m. in an early collision of top contenders out to foil La Salle’s bid to complete a golden treble for the third time since 2004.
The Lady Bulldogs are also expected to lean on veterans Risa Sato and setter Jasmine Nabor as they try to live up to their billing under new mentor Babes Castillo and put themselves back in the Final Four after missing the trip for the past two years.
The Lady Falcons, who could only win a single match last year, are bound to make a big turnaround with the return of top spiker Jema Galanza from an ACL injury aside from veteran Mylene Paat and setter Fenela Emnas.
A fair share of the spotlight should also fall on La Salle’s sophomore setter Michelle Cobb, who will be in for her most daunting challenge yet in terms of filling up the big void left by Fajardo, who has already maximized her five-year eligibility.
“Given the legacy that Ate Kim left, it comes with a lot of expectations,” said Cobb, 18, a former St. Scholastica College-Manila star. “Siyempre a lot of people are looking at our team. Dama ko ‘yung pressure talaga. Pabigat na nang pabigat.”
Good thing for Cobb, she has veteran teammates who will help ease the pressure off her shoulders.
“Buo naman ang tiwala namin kay Michelle so feeling ko naman na parang madadala pa rin namin ‘yung team kasi magtutulungan pa rin kami,” said Macandili, who was adjudged as the Second Best Libero during the AVC Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship in Biñan, Laguna last August.
Standing in the Lady Spikers’ way are the Tigresses, who are determined to make it back to the Final Four—and even go deeper—behind veterans Sisi Rondina, Carla Sandoval, Dimdim Pacres and skipper Shanen Palec.
However, UST won’t have top hitter EJ Laure due to a chronic right shoulder injury and middle blocker Ria Meneses who decided to sit out this season, leaving Tigresses coach Kungfu Reyes without a pair of reliable contributors.