Ateneo Lady Eagles: The future is now

MANILA, Philippines – The last time Ateneans and sports fans saw the Lady Eagles was on March 7, 2020, when they had been sent back to terra firma by their nemesis, the La Salle Lady Spikers. A four-set loss early in Season 82 put them at 1-1 and tempered expectations about the team’s title defense.

Then the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is still around, but gone from the Lady Eagles’ lineup are Katrina Tolentino, Jhoanna Maraguinot, Jules Samonte, Jamie Lavitoria, Jaycel delos Santos and Ponggay Gaston. Samonte could have still played but with all the previous uncertainty, she finished her school then turned pro.

And now, the young players are now the veterans. The rebuilding came sooner rather than later. Now, they will feature in the coming UAAP Season 84 that is slated to tip off late May.

Faith Nisperos is now a junior. Jaja Maraguinot is now a senior. Dani Ravena is now the team captain; as if anyone expected less from someone with her surname. Helping her out in her leadership role is Vannie Gandler, who has become more vocal. Ditto with Roma Doromal. Also back is Erika Raagas, who head coach Oliver Almadro hopes can continue to pound away with those powerful spikes of hers. Joan Narit will now patrol that middle vacated by Tolentino and Samonte.

It’s a young team in terms of experience, promising when it comes to talent, and in Almadro’s hopes, “long on heart and confidence.”

Donning the colors of the blue and white are middle blocker Sofia Ildefonso, younger sister of Shaun and Dave, who played high school volleyball for National University.

There is that quartet from Ateneo de Davao in setter Takako Fujimoto, middle blocker Yvana Sulit, opposite hitter Katrina Blanco, and middle blocker Jana Cane.

Also from one of the other Ateneo schools is open spiker Jennifer delos Santos out of Ateneo de Cebu.

Another duo switching zip codes is Alexi Miner and Lyann de Guzman, who came from Far Eastern University. Miner is 5’11” while de Guzman is a shade smaller. The former was the Best Middle Blocker in the Girl’s Division while the latter, who plays opposite hitter, brought home a silver medal from the 11th Asean School Games held in Indonesia in May of 2019.

“Papalag naman kami,” said Almadro. “For sure it won’t be easy, but you know us, we’ll be fighting all the way.”

The goal is the Final Four then should they make it, take their chances. They know other squads remain very good — La Salle as always, UST, and National University. Adamson’s young guns are in a similar position as Ateneo’s. And you really cannot discount anyone. The pandemic, after all, gave every team the same fits and problems.

The last time the Lady Eagles had to rely on a young cadre of players was during Season 71 (2008) when the team featured only 10 p-layers. Five veterans (some who were only a year or two in) in Bea Pascual, Kara Acevedo, Misha Quimpo, Steph Gabriel and Averil Paje. And of those five, only Pascual and Gabriel had been in the team longer and had significant playing time. Acevedo was only in her second season. The rookies then included Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, Jem Ferrer and Ailysse Nacachi.

“All I can say, this is going to be an exciting season,” summed up Almadro.

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