MANILA, Philippines - Four years have passed since the UST community's last bout of Final Four fever in collegiate volleyball.
After 4 seasons of coming up short, the Golden Tigresses kept their eyes on the prize, especially with the race as wide open as this year's. Despite a steady start that left them in the middle of the pack, UST, like a thief in the night, slowly and sneakily climbed their way up the Season 79 ladder.
And they intend to stay there for as long as they can.
"Siyempre sobrang nakakatuwa kasi na-achieve na namin 'yung isang goal namin, so mas nakakagaan sa feeling," said former skipper EJ Laure.
(Of course we're happy because we have achieved one of our goals, so it's a pleasant feeling)
The Tigresses are coming off an emotional comeback win against National University, which secured them the 3rd seed in 5 sets. They may or may not have momentum on their side, but going up against the defending champions in a do-or-die round is something that cannot be overlooked.
Albeit having a tough road ahead in the semis, the España squad simply won't put the brakes on now that they've made it this far.
"Next step naman kami," said UST head coach Kungfu Reyes. "Hindi na kami magse-settle doon sa Final Four. Mangangarap na kami nang mataas."
(We're on to the next step. We won't settle for just the Final Four. We're going to dream higher.)
"Hindi kami nakukuntento. Hopefully, makasabay kami doon sa top two teams."
(We won't stay contented. Hopefully we'll be able to keep up with the top two teams.)
The Tigresses, anchored by the league's top offensive threats Laure and present team captain Sisi Rondina, will try to challenge perennial finalists La Salle in hopes of attaining the higher goal of reaching the tournament's championship round.
But they will have to put in the work and take it one game at a time against a squad that has had Final Four exposure for 9 consecutive years.
"Siyempre, trabaho pa rin kami sa training namin," noted Rondina. "[Kailangan] ayusin namin kung ano ang mga mali namin."
(Of course we still need to put in the work during training. We need to learn from our mistakes.)
"[Ang] goal namin is makarating na. Sabi nga ni Coach [Kungfu], mangangarap kami nang todo todo, para sa team namin at sa goal namin."
(Our goal is to get there. As Coach had said, we'll dream really high for our team and for our goal.)
Laure, for her part, believes that above anything else, mental preparation is essential come the knockouts.
"Basta gagawin namin 'yung kailangan namin. Individual preparation [ko] is 'yung mindset lang talaga. Focus lang sa game."
(We'll just play our game. Personally, my individual preparation is just the mindset. We just to need focus on the game.)
The Tigresses take on the Lady Spikers as the Final Four round commences on Saturday, April 22 at 4 pm. －Rappler.com