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FEU rises to title contender after worst-ever finish


FEU Lady Tamaraws UAAP Season 86 women's volleyball Final Four

FEU Lady Tamaraws during the UAAP Season 86 women’s volleyball Final Four.–MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines — In a span of three years under three different coaches, Far Eastern University has turned from a cellar-dweller into a legit title threat.

The last time the Lady Tamaraws made the Final Four was in Season 81 which ended in an elimination loss to eventual champion Ateneo.

On Saturday, FEU moved on the cusp of ending a six-year finals drought after pulling off a stunning 25-23, 25-17, 25-23 win over top seed National University to force a rubber match in the UAAP Season 86 women’s volleyball Final Four.

READ: UAAP women’s volleyball: FEU forces Final Four decider, upsets NU

Season 84

Under coach George Pascua, who was the last tactician who steered FEU to the championship round back in 2018, the rebuilding FEU team–led by Chenie Tagaod and Tin Ubaldo–only won one out of their 14 games for the school’s worst-ever finish in UAAP women’s volleyball.

“Magkasama kami ni Tin nung Season 84, inisip ko lang na ayoko bumalik sa feeling na sobrang down kami,” said Chenie Tagaod, reflecting on her team’s journey from pushovers to championship contenders. 

“Knowing FEU, grabe yung sistema na binibigay nila sa players. Kaya laging minimindset na ayoko na maranasan yun.”

Lycha Ebon, the remaining go-to scorer from the past two seasons, didn’t even finish the season as athletic director Mark Molina bared that she and Martha Mora already accomplished their “bachelor’s degrees and decided not to finish the season.” 

Pascua also stepped down after the season and was replaced by former UAAP MVP and FEU champion setter Tina Salak, who made a huge difference right in her first season.

READ: UAAP: FEU proves status as legit title threat with win over NU

Season 85

In Salak’s turn to call the shots for FEU, she brought back the fierceness and resilience of the Lady Tamaraws, making a big leap from last placers to a Final Four hopeful although they still came up short of qualifying after placing fifth with a 6-8 record.

Salak, however, stepped down from her post just months after her first season as she prepared to migrate to the United States. Salak remained with FEU as a consultant while longtime deputy Manolo Refugia took over the program in the preseason on an interim basis.

The changes didn’t stop the Lady Tamaraws’ continuous improvement as they got a huge boost from Congolese spiker Faida Bakanke, who found a new home in FEU.

The Lady Tamaraws showed a glimpse of their potential with a runner-up finish in the V-League and a bronze medal in the Shakey’s Super League.

Refugia, a former FEU captain and setter, has embraced his biggest role yet for the school, taking on the challenge with Salak still on his side even after bidding farewell to three players Shiela Kiseo, Kiesha Bedonia, and Max Juangco, who turned pro in the PVL.

READ: UAAP: No shortage of inspiration for Chenie Tagaod in leading FEU to victory

Season 86

With an unheralded coach and under-the-radar roster, FEU exceeded expectations after returning to the Final Four for the first time in five years following a 9-5 record in the elimination round.

Facing the mighty NU, which dominated them in the elimination round, Refugia encouraged his wards to believe in themselves and prove that anything is possible.

The Lady Tamaraws heeded his call, showing no fear behind Tin Ubaldo and Tagaod while also getting major contributions from Jean Asis, Mitzi Panangin, Bakanke and libero Joan Monares protecting the floor with an impressive 14 excellent receptions out of 15 attempts.

One step closer

Being part of FEU’s worst UAAP women’s volleyball campaign two years ago was Ubaldo’s biggest motivation to continue their inspiring story this season.

“Super eager po kami makapasok sa finals. Naging inspiration ko po yung Season 84 namin para makarating dito. Tuwing nilulook back ko, [iniisip ko] hindi na namin papayagan mangyari yun,” said Ubaldo, who had 16 excellent sets on top of six points.

“Super happy po kasi yung pinaghirapan namin sa training nagawa namig ngayon. Yung eliminations nakita naming yung lapses, pinagtrabahuan namin tapos luckily napakita namin sa dulo.”

Hearing the cheers of the FEU faithful from the team’s lowest point to its rise inspires Ubaldo and her teammates to keep fighting.

“Super thankful po ako sa lahat ng nanuod ngayon at saka sa lahat ng manunuod sa susunod kasi hindi niyo kami sinukuan since Season 84 and 85, up until now nandito pa rin kayo,” she said.

Nobody expected this FEU group to be in the finals this year with many expecting another title showdown NU-La Salle showdown, while some believe the University of Santo Tomas has a strong chance to reach the championship.

But now that they are a win away from becoming the first fourth seed to reach the UAAP women’s volleyball finals, the Lady Tamaraws will give their all in their do-or-die game against the Lady Bulldogs on Wednesday.



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“All I can say is we’ll play our hearts out,” Ubaldo said.





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