THE chase for the UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball championship is regarded by pundits as too close to call, with six teams contending for the throne, which De La Salle currently holds.
The back-to-back seeking Lady Spikers lost open spikers Ar Galang, Cyd Demecillo, middle blockers Mika Reyes and Carol Cerveza may have already completed their playing eligibility, and Eli Soyud moved to another school, but the Taft-based squad need not to worry as veteran setter Kim Fajardo has decided to play for another year.
Kim Dy, last season’s Finals MVP, will banner De La Salle along with fellow key returnees Majoy Baron and libero Dawn Macandili, as coach Ramil de Jesus is bracing for a tough competition which has not seen in recent years with some teams going outside the country for training and retooled rosters.
Ateneo, which won two titles behind superstar Alyssa Valdez, still has a solid core with Jho Maraguinot, Bea de Leon, Maddie Madayag and setter Jia Morado leading the charge.
Michelle Morente returns after a one-year absence, while rookie Jules Samonte and Kat Tolentino will have a chance to shine for the Lady Eagles of Thai mentor Tai Bundit.
Far Eastern University remains one of major forces with Bernadeth Pons, Chin-Chin Basas, Remy Palma, Jerrili Malabanan, defensive specialist Buding Duremdes and new playmaker Kyla Atienza, who took over from veteran Gyzelle Sy.
The Lady Tamaraws nearly made it last year as the 29-time champions dragged the Lady Spikers to a deciding Final Four match before bowing.
After making it to the semis last year, University of the Philippines hopes to make it two in a row despite stiff competition.
Aside from giving seniors Kathy Bersola, Nicole Tiamzon and Pia Gaiser a grand send-off, Isa Molde, Diana Carlos and Justine Dorog, gaining the needed experience from last season’s impressive run, are expected to mature this time around for the Lady Maroons, while skipper Arielle Estrañero will take charge as the team’s new setter.
Toughned by club league stints, 6-foot-5 Jaja Santiago will be the heart-and-soul of National University, as it try to end a 60-year title drought behind setter Jasmine Nabor, Jorelle Singh, Roma Doromal and Aiko Urdas.
Determined to end a string of disappointments in the past few years, University of Santo Tomas will bank on battle-tested veterans EJ Laure, Cherry Rondina, Ria Meneses, Chloe Cortez, Alex Cabanos and comebacking Pam Lastimosa.
The Tigresses last ruled the league in 2009.
Seeking to pull off surprises this season are Adamson and University of the East.
Jema Galanza, Joy Dacoron and Kieth Lebumfacil will lead the way for the Lady Falcons, who are eing rebound from last year’s seventh place finish under new coach Air Padda.
Hoping to make good strides this year, the Lady Warriors, who ended a 58-game losing streak in 2016, will lean on Shaya Adorador, Roselle Baliton and Kat Arado.
Action begins on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with Ateneo ushering its post-Valdez era against UST at 4 p.m., right after NU and UE collide at 2 p.m.
Returning as commissioner this season is Otie Camangian.
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
8 a.m. – NU vs UE (Men)
10 a.m. – Ateneo vs UST (Men)
2 p.m. – NU vs UE (Women)
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs UST (Women)