UAAP Volleyball

Anyone’s game: NU, UST gain Final Four edge as champ La Salle nears ouster

JR Isaga

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Anyone’s game: NU, UST gain Final Four edge as champ La Salle nears ouster
After two months of unpredictable UAAP Season 86 women's volleyball action, four teams remain to vie for the crown. Is it for the taking for top seeds NU and UST, or will champion La Salle and underdog FEU change the story?

MANILA, Philippines – The UAAP Season 86 women’s volleyball tournament is nearing its most critical moments with the Final Four all set in stone ahead of a much-needed one-week break for all its competing athletes.

Season 84 champion and Season 85 finalist NU is back on top as the first seed after a 7-0 second-round elimination sweep.

Giant-slaying UST booked the other twice-to-beat berth as the No. 2 squad with yet another statement win against defending champion La Salle to end the elims, while underdog FEU rounded out its impressive turnaround from a 1-13 record just two years ago as the fourth seed with a 9-5 slate.

There are a lot of storylines to go through with just a handful of games left, with each tale being more intriguing than the next. (SCHEDULE: UAAP volleyball Final Four)

La Salle crown teeters on edge

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the La Salle Lady Spikers are certainly feeling the pressure with each passing game heading to the Final Four.

Already bogged by injuries to key players Baby Jyne Soreño and MVP Angel Canino up until the latter’s much-needed return, the defending champions now face the unenviable task of going back-to-back against UST – a team that already beat them twice – just to book a finals comeback.

Six years removed from their last title defense – a three-peat completion, no less – La Salle is aiming to kick off another championship winning streak, but the path to get there will be as rocky as it can get.

Golden opportunity: Tigresses rally with best title shot in years

Dubbed “Mini Miss UST” for their undersized roster before the season’s start, the Golden Tigresses are now standing tall after their historic 8-0 start evolved to a 12-2 finish and their first twice-to-beat berth in 13 years.

Incidentally, it has been 14 years since UST last hoisted a UAAP women’s volleyball trophy, and since the Tigresses’ last dominant stretch, it has been an up-and-down road with a handful of bumpy patches where they missed the Final Four altogether.

Today, however, with a cohesive crew led by possible rookie MVP candidate Angge Poyos, top libero Detdet Pepito, and star setter Cassie Carballo, no heights are too high for this small UST crew to reach, even with towering La Salle once again standing in their way of a finals return.

NU title quest: So close, yet so far?

In the last three seasons of pandemic-era UAAP volleyball, the NU Lady Bulldogs, alongside La Salle, have been the shining beacons of excellence with three Final Four berths, two finals appearances, and one championship to show for it so far.

Led by all-around star Bella Belen and offensive juggernaut Alyssa Solomon, the perennial contenders are likely favorites to atone for their Season 85 finals shortcomings and once again rise to the top of the heap, with underdog FEU as their first challenge.

While Belen and Solomon continue to resist temptations of greener pastures outside the UAAP, the national team-caliber Lady Bulldogs will always be one of the top teams to beat in the foreseeable future.

FEU braves ahead, builds for the future

Practically buried under the mountain of hype created by the three teams before them, the FEU Lady Tamaraws are in some ways in a world of their own, solely focused on raising back the bar of their legendary program and taking everything else as a welcome bonus.

Ending a five-year Final Four drought with a strong finish to the elimination round, the gutsy Lady Tamaraws are still raring to add more slain titans in their growing Season 86 catalog, and mighty NU is dead and center in their crosshairs.

Back-to-back wins against an on-fire Lady Bulldogs side are a tough ask, especially for this batch of FEU stalwarts just starting to regain their footing in the realm of UAAP contenders.

But if the likes of Gerzel Petallo, Chen Tagaod, and Faida Bakanke have any say on the matter, it’s that no team is untouchable to those who dare to be brave. –

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