One of the most popular sports in the Philippines, volleyball has been played at the intercollegiate level since 1931 and as a University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) event since 1938. It therefore does not come as a surprise that at regional competitions such as the SEA Games and the AUG, Filipinos come out strongly to support their national volleybelles.
The UAAP – a collegiate athletic association of eight Metro Manila universities – organises the annual volleyball championship which is one of the most keenly contested in the Philippines. The tournament has been broadcast “live” since the mid-2000s.
The women’s volleyball championship, now into its 78th season, is currently held by Ateneo de Manila’s Lady Eagles, who are looking to seal a third consecutive title in the 2015-2016 UAAP season.
In fact, during the last AUG, the UAAP team selected to compete at in Palembang were composed of standouts from the 2013-2014 Ateneo Championship winning team which had progressed all the way to the finals against the odds.
The finals that season saw a thrilling finish between the Lady Eagles and the defending champions De La Salle University’s Lady Spikers. The Spikers had easily defeated the Lady Eagles twice during the elimination round, but could not stop the team from Quezon City from winning the title during the knockout rounds.
The UAAP’s AUG team was led by the Lady Eagles captain and outside hitter Alyssa Valdez, one of the Philippines’ most talented volleyball players.
Veterans Ella De Jesus and Michelle Morente helped to provide much needed experience for the team, while rising stars Dennise Michelle “Denden” Lazaro and Isabel Beatriz De Leon were also on the plane to Indonesia.
Indeed, these players had been pivotal towards their school’s drive to clinch their first-ever championship in a competition that had been long dominated by Far Eastern University (FEU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
Valdez bagged the 2013-2014 season awards for Best Scorer, Best Server, Season’s MVP and the Finals MVP, becoming the first female volleyball athlete in Philippine history to bag four awards in one UAAP season.
Going to the AUG was a landmark first for the volleybelles from Ateneo de Manila University. Having won their first-ever championship earlier in 2014, Palembang was their first major regional outing for their school and country.
Donning the national jersey on behalf of the UAAP also meant that they had to live up to their reputation as one of the most exciting sides to watch in Southeast Asia. Their competition? Favorites Thailand, hosts Indonesia, the dark horse of Malaysia, and the SUSC team from Singapore.
The Lady Eagles proved their mettle in the first game of the five-team competition by dispatching Malaysia 3-1, with a score of 25-21, 25-18, 15-25, 25-8. However, their next game against Indonesia saw them sink to a 3-1 defeat, although they did put up a fight to tie the score in the second quarter before sinking in the second half.
Favourites Thailand dealt the Lady Eagles supplied team with a blow, as they sunk Valdez and Co 3-1 with a score of 25-14, 25-17, 21-25, 25-20.
Former V-League players Kanika Thipachot and Wanida Kotruang led Thailand with 18 and 10 points respectively, but Valdez and Morente helped their team put up a valiant effort against the Thais with 22 and nine points respectively.
The team’s next game in their final game of the elimination round was against Singapore. Having already been eliminated in the competition, the SUSC team proved no match for a Philippine side aiming to progress to the bronze medal match.
The Singapore team were thumped 3-0 with a score of 12-25, 9-25, 11-25. Captain Valdez put in another outstanding performance by contributing 11 points, eight from attacks and three service aces.
In the bronze medal match, the Lady Eagles once again came up against Malaysia, the team that they had easily dispatched in their first game.
This time, the game was one-sided as the Lady Eagles romped to an emphatic 3-0 victory in the bronze medal match, scoring 25-11, 25-11 and 25-16.
Valdez scored 16 points while de Jesus contributed 14 points. Rising star De Leon stood out in international play, contributed nine points and two blocks during the match.
The bronze medal victory was the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ first ever win in an international competition, and their country’s first international women’s volleyball medal since the 2005 Southeast Asian Games on home soil.
A team with a growing reputation in the game, the Lady Eagles would go on to win another UAAP Volleyball title in the 2014-2015 season.
Valdez would also go on to play in the Shakey’s V-League, a women’s collegiate league with teams coming from the UAAP, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation.
Of course, much will be expected of Filipino Volleybelles when they make their way to Singapore for the AUG in July 2016.
As of late March, the UAAP is awaiting the results of the Women’s Volleyball Competition before a team will be finalised for the AUG in Singapore. Currently, Ateneo are still enjoying their dominance of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Tournament, and are leading in the elimination stage.
With the UAAP season almost at the end, it would not be a surprise if the Lady Eagles do go on win the title and represent their country once again.
Will the UAAP team do one better than the bronze this year? Stay tuned for all the action when the AUG kicks off in July!