UAAP volleyball gets going this Saturday

The University Athletic Association of the Philippines will re-introduce the use of the challenge system for the coming Season 85 of the much-anticipated volleyball tournament set to open on Saturday, 25 February at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Tournament commissioner Michael Verano announced that the league will implement the video challenge starting in the second round – the first time the UAAP will use the innovation since the pandemic-cancelled Season 82 in March 2020.

"We'll start with the challenge system in the second round. The reason for this is the availability of the actual system. There are other leagues and tournaments ongoing in the first quarter, and the UAAP is the last to have a season," Verano said on Wednesday during the tournament press conference at the MOA Arena.

"But we will have it in the second round. There will be two challenges per set," he added.

Aside from the challenge system, the league will also revert to its pre-pandemic game protocols and traditional pre- and post-match courtesies.

"We're going back to a pre-pandemic set of protocols. Shaking hands, high-fives, switching around courts per end of sets, etc. It's all pre-pandemic,' Verano said.

Meanwhile, women's champion National University braces for a dogfight when it begins its title-retention bid against Ateneo de Manila University on Saturday.

"We expect this season to be tougher and more exciting," Lady Bulldogs head coach Karl Dimaculangan said.

NU will come into the season carrying the momentum of its flawless campaign in Season 84 where it completed a 16-game sweep to end a 65-year title drought.

The Lady Bulldogs also swept the 2022 Shakey's Super League Collegiate Pre-Season Championship, making the squad the consensus team-to-beat.

However, Dimaculangan wants to take it one game at a time and not put too much pressure on themselves.

"The team's mindset right now is not how we will defend the crown but how we will improve our skills and gameplay," he said. "We're focused on our day-by-day."

Returning for another title run for NU are graduating libero Jen Nierva, reigning Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Bella Belen, Sheena Toring, Alyssa Solomon, setter Cams Lamina and Season 84 Finals MVP Ces Robles. Backing them up are five promising rookies led by Vangie Alinsug.

Runner-up De La Salle University will miss the services of multi-awarded head coach Ramil de Jesus for at least most of the first round. Noel Orcullo will take over his post in an interim role.

"Hopefully, we'll have a better performance this year than Season 84 and injury-free Season 85," Orcullo, who will bank on holdovers Jolina Dela Cruz, Leila Cruz, Alleiah Malaluan, Fifi Sharma, Thea Gagate and promising newcomer Angel Canino, said.

Ateneo de Manila University also remains as one of the top contenders following its conquest of the V-League Women's Collegiate Challenge.

"I told them if we want to make it to the finals, let's work hard and have an opportunity first to be in the Final Four. When you're in the Final Four, you have a chance to be in the finals. That's the realistic goal," Blue Eagles coach Oliver Almadro said.

Co-captains Faith Nisperos and Vanie Gandler will lead Ateneo's campaign together with veterans AC Miner and Joan Narit.

University of Santo Tomas will see the return of Fil-Italian Milena Alessandrini to backup senior Eya Laure, Imee Hernandez and KC Galdonez. The Tigresses also boasts of feisty rookies in Regina Jurado, Pierre Abellana and Xyza Gula.

Adamson University brings in a champion coach in Jerry Yee, who steered College of Saint Benilde to the National Collegiate Athletic Association title last year.

Former Far Eastern University setter Tina Salak makes her return to the league this time as coach of the Lady Tamaraws hoping to turn their fortunes around after a 1-13 record last season.

Shaq delos Santos gets another coaching stint in the league after a five-year absence as University of the Philippines mentor while University of the East coach Jumbo Dimaculangan seeks a better outing for the rebuilding Lady Warriors.

Meanwhile, the men's division will also make its return after a three-year pandemic hiatus with NU gunning to extend its reign to a three-peat.

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