Defending champion National University downplays its tag as the team to beat when the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s volleyball tournament returns after a three-year pandemic hiatus.
Head coach Dante Alinsunurin acknowledges that the Bulldogs will be walking into Season 85 with a huge target on their backs when they try to complete an unfinished business of making a three-peat.
But he keeps on reminding his squad not to pay attention to outside distractions.
“We’re not thinking about being the no. 1 or being the team to beat. What is important to us is to work on how we will improve our game,” Alinsunurin told Daily Tribune on Tuesday.
Instead, he wants his wards to concentrate on reaching their top form and be ready for the battles ahead.
“We’re still working on whipping our team back into shape, especially coming off a holiday break. We just need to get them back in top form but we’re on the right track,” Alinsunurin, who also handles the men’s national team, said.
“The players know our system so I think we just need to address their physical conditioning,” he added,
“I would like to think that we’re about 60 to 70 percent ready for the UAAP. But again, we’re getting there.”
The Bulldogs were favored to win a third straight title in 2020 but Season 82 abruptly ended after just three playdates because of Covid-19.
Only the women’s division was held last year in Season 84 when the league made its return following the easing of health restrictions.
NU started training as early as March 2022 and participated in several pre-season tournaments.
The Bulldogs ruled the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference and the V-League Men’s Volleyball Challenge. NU finished fifth in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation Champions League.
The powerhouse team is currently playing in the Philippine University Volleyball League which serves as a qualifying tournament for the World University Games slated 28 July to 8 August in Chengdu, China.
“I would think that with all the achievements we had last year winning the Spikers’ Turf and the V-League titles, there is a bit of pressure heading into the UAAP season,” Alinsunurin admitted.
“During the V-League we thought that we’ll sweep it but after losing to UST in Game 2 of the finals that’s when we realized that we still have a lot to work on, that we can’t assume that we’ll get our goal easily.”
“Yes, there is some pressure but we will see how we will react when the actual competition begins.”
Veterans Nico Almendras and setter Owa Retamar will be back to lead the Bulldogs alongside young guns Michaelo Buddin, Obed Mukaba and Kenry Malinis — the same core that delivered in their preseason success.
“I’m just thankful for the positive response of the young players to the team’s system. They quickly adapted to our system. Maybe that’s the reason why we’re able to win in the Spikers’ Turf despite fielding a young team. Nico and Owa helped a lot in the progress of the team ahead of the UAAP,” Alinsunurin said.