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Lady Blazers face early test

‘Whoever is there will have to step up.’

Reigning champion College of Saint Benilde faces an early test when it collides with dangerous San Sebastian College in the opening salvo of Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association women’s volleyball tournament today at the San Andres Sports Complex in Manila.

Hostilities kick off at 12 p.m. with the Lady Blazers battling the Lady Stags not only to gain early momentum but also to stretch their winning streak that dates back to 2020.

Meanwhile, Season 97 finalist Arellano University tackles third-placer Jose Rizal University at 2 p.m. while College of Saint Benilde and San Sebastian collide at 9 a.m. when the men’s division formally returns after a three-year hiatus due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Capping off the busy quadruple-header will be the Chiefs and the Heavy Bombers, who will collide at 4:30 p.m.

Still, focus will be on the Lady Blazers and the Lady Stags as their battle will also see the chess match between two of the brightest minds in local volleyball in Jerry Yee and Roger Gorayeb.

Although the Lady Blazers were untouchable in the NCAA, they got a massive reality check when they bowed in the inaugural Shakey’s Super League Collegiate Preseason Conference last October.

They, however, bounced back when they copped the bronze medal in the V-League Collegiate Conference few weeks later.

Unfortunately, NCAA Season 97 Most Valuable Player Mycah Go suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in a friendly match, casting doubts on the title hopes of the Lady Blazers.

But Yee said everything is under control.

“Whoever is there will have to step up. In Mycah’s spot, we are like six to eight people deep so we are hardly bothered by her absence,” Yee, who will also call the shots for Adamson University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines, said.

“Staying undefeated is one of the factors that contribute to the pressure. Our focus should always be on our execution.”

With Go being reduced into a cheerleader, veterans like Finals MVP Gayle Pascual, Cloanne Mondonedo, Jade Gentapa, and Michelle Gamit are expected to step up to keep their title defense campaign alive.

Gorayeb, meanwhile, is looking to sustain the momentum after leading the Lady Stags back to the semifinals for the first time in five years.

Despite the departure of Reyann Cañete, Roxanne Tan and Bianca Ordoña, Gorayeb will still have the core of Vea Sision, Amaka Tan, Jewelle Bermillio, Tina Marasigan, KJ Dionisio, and Season 97 Rookie of the Year Kath Santos to lean on.

“They’re a bit mature now compared to last season. They were really young back then,” Gorayeb said.

“Last year was understandable because they were in their first year but tomorrow (Saturday) we’ll see if they have improved.”

Gorayeb, a former national team mentor who led the Lady Stags to 22 NCAA titles, said he is excited for his players to make a return to the country’s oldest collegiate league.

“It’s not just the Saint Benilde that excites us but all the teams in the NCAA. It’s the regular season so we will see all of the results of our hard work,” Gorayeb said.

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