Volleyball continues to take the Philippines by storm, and the UAAP Season 80 Women’s Volleyball Tournament is serving up plenty of players to root for. From athletes bouncing back strong after injury, to veterans hoping to unlock the next level of achievement, to a young guns with massive shoes to fill, here are some of the players you should keep an eye out for this season.
Comeback Kid: Jema Galanza (Adamson)
Jema Galanza was one of the bright spots in Adamson’s struggling campaign last year, but suffered a gruesome ankle injury. Great news for the Lady Falcons fans: She’s back, and playing like the injury never even happened!
Even better, Adamson has returning players in Mylene Paat and Fenela Emnas, along additions like Eli Soyud, who has completed her residency after transferring from DLSU. Coach Air Padda is looking for vindication after a lackluster Season 79, where they simply did not have enough personnel to make it work. With better pieces in Season 80, they’re a legit Final Four contender. Talk about bouncing back!
Time To Step Up: Carla Sandoval (UST)
The biggest bomb to drop over the holidays was that EJ Laure, who averaged 16 points a game last year, would not be playing for UST this season. How do you fill that gap? Keep an eye on Carla Sandoval, who will be taking over for Laure as open hitter for the squad.
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Sandoval hadn’t gotten much playing time in the UAAP with Laure around, but UST does field a team in the PSL without star players like Laure and Cherry Rondina as a way for less experienced players to gain skills and confidence. In their last PSL run, Sandoval was averaging 14 points a game. The question is, will she be able to perform on the same level when you bring in the crowd and high stakes of the UAAP?
Potential Energy: Jaja Santiago (NU)
At 6’5”, you literally cannot miss Jaja Santiago—the most physically imposing player in the league, arguably the country as well. Santiago had a field day with last season’s individual awards, taking home Best Spiker, Best Blocker, and Best Scorer. If only NU had made the Final Four, Santiago might taken home MVP as well.
And there lies the problem of NU: A team with Santiago should be making the Final Four with ease. This year, Lady Bulldogs have a new coach in Babes Castillo, the architect of their juniors’ four straight championships. Time will tell whether Castillo can replicate his success at the collegiate level, but this is Santiago’s last season in the UAAP, and it’s about time NU gets its act together and gives Santiago the send-off she deserves.
All You Want, All You Need: Bernadeth Pons (FEU)
If you look up the phrase “do-it-all” in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of Bernadeth Pons’ smiling back at you. The Ilongga athlete can receive as well as their libero, can jump higher than you’d expect from a 5’7” player, and attack with precision, too. Pons may be soft-spoken and mild-mannered off the court, but make no mistake—you’ve got an MVP candidate material right here.
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Pons is one of many solid attackers for FEU. If their setters can improve to maximize that talent, they may just make the Finals this time around.
The Young Gun: Deanna Wong (ADMU)
All eyes are on setter Deanna Wong simply because she has the ginormous shoes of Jia Morado to fill. Last season, Ateneo has difficulty with reception, yet Morado would find a way to set it to the right attacker, at just the right height, at just the right speed, even if she had to do it on her knees. This is Wong’s first year as Ateneo’s starting setter, but she was able to overcome her nerves in their very game, notching 40 excellent sets and earning Morado’s public vote of confidence.
Despite making the finals last year, Ateneo doesn’t have a clear path for a return trip this year, especially in the wake of Michelle Morente’s transfer to DLSU. But if they’re going to surprise the league, Wong will be a part of that.
A League of Her Own: Dawn Macandili (DLSU)
“Ms. Everywhere” is the best libero in the league, bar none. Macandili’s acrobatics and lightning-fast reflexes are a huge reason why the defending champions have been so entertaining to watch. There’s no question we’ll be digging (pun most definitely intended) her moves this season, but even though they come as no surprise, we’ll be waiting for them every game.