Ateneo, which skipped the recent Premier Volleyball League Season 2 Collegiate Conference to toughen up for the Open, hopes to live up to the promise when the season-ending conference is fired off Saturday at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan.
The Lady Eagles expect a tough challenge from the rest of the eight-squad field mostly made up of club teams but confident of their chances on a roster built around mainstays Bea de Leon, Kat Tolentino, Maddie Madayag and the comebacking Kim Gequillana and a slew of new faces plus a new coach.
Oliver Almadro, a five-time mentor of Ateneo’s men’s squad, will now be the man at the helm but hard-pressed to turn the Lady Eagles into one cohesive, fighting unit for the upcoming tournament that also serves as part of their buildup for the coming UAAP wars.
New recruits setter Jaja Maraguinot, sister of former Ateneo open spiker Jho, and Vanessa Gandler both hope to make an immediate impact for one of the most popular teams in the fold that also boasts of Dani Ravena, Deanna Wong, Jules Samonte, Bela Peralt and Ponggay Gaston.
Ateneo, backed by Motolite, will be as much tested as the rest of the field in the two-and-a-half-month long tournament organized by Sports Vision although Creamline and Pocari-Air Force loom as the teams to beat for their solid, veteran-laden rosters.
The Cool Smashers, for one, are going all out to nail a second championship this year after scoring a breakthrough in the Reinforced Conference with former Ateneo stalwarts and current national team mainstays Alyssa Valdez and Jia Morado bannering the squad.
Pocari is likewise fielding in an intact lineup led by MVP Myla Pablo, May Ann Pantino, Jeannette Panaga, Iari Yongco, Elaine Kasilag, Angel Antipuesto and Del Palomata, while Adamson-Akari, BanKo-Perlas, Iriga-Navy, PetroGazz and Tacloban have also toughened with key acquisitions during the off-season, guaranteeing a wide open title chase.
BaliPure, which dethroned 2016 champion Pocari in last year’s finals here, is skipping this year’s competition.
Tacloban and PetroGazz open hostilities at 4 p.m. on Saturday with BanKo-Perlas and Iriga-Navy tangling in the 6 p.m. main encounter.
The league, which held out-of-town games in Tuguegarao, Batangas and other provinces in the Reinforced Conference, will also stage games in Malolos, Bulacan, Imus, Cavite, Baliwag, Bulacan, Batangas and Cagayan de Oro in its continuing effort to bring the sport closer to the people.
The Lady Eagles begin their title quest on Sunday against the Lady Warriors in an early marquee matchup with the PetroGazz Angeles and the BanKo-Perlas Spikers squaring off in the other match.