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Rookie-laden Ateneo ready to rumble

By Josiah Albelda Posted Nov 29th 2013

Sans the Fab Five, Alyssa Valdez looks to lead a rookie-laden Ateneo squad back to the Finals.

The Fab Five era is long over and Ateneo de Manila University will now face its first tournament without any of the celebrated volleybelles who were faces of the Lady Eagles over the past half-decade.

With Gretchen Ho, Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer, A Nacachi and even ex-coach Roger Gorayeb now traversing different routes, Ateneo hopes to make a dent in the 76th UAAP women's volleyball tournament with a new core.

"Half of the team are rookies," related university volleyball program head Sherwin Malonzo. "We also have a new coach."

Armed on the exploits of its Fab Five and the scoring prowess of Alyssa Valdez, the Lady Eagles soared all the way to the Season 75 finals, only to lose to rival De La Salle University.

It will be a different story this time, however, but Malonzo believes that this group -- young as it is -- has what it takes to make some noise in the highly-competitive world of the UAAP.

"We have prepared enough," he said, noting that Ateneo has undergone intensive training under new coach Tai Bundit.

In less than three months handling the team, Bundit, also the coach of the Thailand national juniors team, has been known for pushing the Lady Eagles to their physical limits.

"He's using a different approach, different techniques," Malonzo added.

Valdez will have her hands full leading Ateneo this season, with fellow old hands Ella de Jesus, Bea Tan and Denden Lazaro ready to support the team and provide veteran leadership.

Former Palarong Pambansa MVP Ana Gopico spearheads the Lady Eagles' freshmen and will be bringing along with her former NCR teammate Julia Morado and Western Visayas standout Kim Gequillana.

"We are chasing at least a Final Four spot this year," said Malonzo. "Although expectations are not that high, we believe this team is ready."

Malonzo adds that the Lady Eagles are ready to brandish a new weapon through their deadly backrow attacks, something that Valdez has exhibited in numerous offseason games.

"Malaking bagay ang backrow," he stressed. "Mahirap hulihin."

And that is exactly how Ateneo will be through this season. Mahirap hulihin.