UAAP Volleyball

New Ateneo coach keeps it simple as young Eagles take flight: ‘Keep playing’

JR Isaga

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New Ateneo coach keeps it simple as young Eagles take flight: ‘Keep playing’

RISING AGAIN. The Ateneo Blue Eagles react and huddle after a point in the UAAP Season 86 women's volleyball tournament

UAAP Season 86 Media Team

The young, rebuilding Ateneo Blue Eagles find peace in their time away from the UAAP women's volleyball spotlight, absorbing daily lessons without worry of wins, losses, or pressure

MANILA, Philippines – Once a mighty force in UAAP women’s volleyball, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have since fallen behind their former equals following a years-long talent exodus that their recruitment drives have not quite been able to match.

Coming off a historic low in Season 85 where it failed to make the Final Four for the first time in a decade, Ateneo now finds itself searching for that next big star to carry it back to relevance.

Clearly, however, that time has not yet come, and this young batch of Eagles are perfectly at peace with the fact that wins will not come as easily as before.

Even their Season 86 breakthrough demanded a significant amount of effort from every player, as the Eagles rallied from two sets down against the winless UP Fighting Maroons and pulled off a five-set, reverse sweep, 22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-17, 15-9, on Wednesday, February 28.

New head coach Sergio Veloso, however, does not mind how the wins are achieved, nor if they come at all.

“First point, we have more than six to seven players and that’s important. When players start to go down, you have players to do and continue the level,” said the Brazilian mentor.

“Second point, the set is until 25. You need to fight to get to this point. It does not matter if the other team is up three or four points in front or one, two sets in front. Volleyball has five sets and you need to win three. Keep playing.”

And keep playing, the Eagles did, as they drew strength from leading scorer Lyann de Guzman and standout sub Sobe Buena, who tallied new career-highs of 24 and 18 points, respectively, to eventually prevail against a UP side now led by their old coach Oliver Almadro.

“I can say that we found our consistency this game,” said De Guzman, who completed her big night with 18 excellent receptions and 11 excellent digs. “Like coach said, we just have to keep playing and playing even if down two sets, because as long as we have a strong mind, we will hold on.”

“Like what coach said, keep playing,” echoed Buena, who powered down most of her points in the crucial fourth and fifth sets after a quiet start. “My mindset was just to leave everything on the court. Coach always emphasized that we have to finish strong and play 100%.”

This season, it won’t be a surprise if Ateneo misses its second straight Final Four and lag to the bottom rungs of the standings.

Their fans – once fighting for seats in thousand-seater arenas – are all but gone in the stands.

The Blue Eagles’ glory days are over, but for them, it’s all okay.

Keep playing. –

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