MANILA, Philippines -- University of the Philippines (UP) head coach Godfrey Okumu won't deny that his team is beginning to feel the pressure after winning a second preseason championship on Thursday.
The Lady Maroons, behind a solid performance from skipper Tots Carlos, defeated University of Santo Tomas in four sets to emerge as the winners of the inaugural Philippine Superliga (PSL) Collegiate Grand Slam.
UP had lost to UST in the preliminary round, but Okumu and his crew proved to be the stronger team in Thursday's gold medal game at FilOil Flying V Centre as the Lady Maroons seized a 25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 25-19 triumph.
This is already UP's second title this preseason. In September, the Fighting Maroons defeated Far Eastern University in the finals of the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference for a breakthrough championship.
"It means a lot of pressure," Okumu said frankly when asked about their pair of preseason trophies. "That's what it means."
"We had a trophy, and this is the second one. It's just a big pressure, and just hoping for the best," he added.
Okumu has plenty of reasons to stay concerned, even as UP appears ready for the UAAP wars with still a couple of months to go before the start of the Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
For one thing, he still has to figure out his roster. Okumu played nearly two dozen players in the Collegiate Conference and in the Collegiate Grand Slam, in a bid to gauge who among them are ready for the big league.
"It's gonna be hard to choose," he admitted. "Don't ask me about my line-up for the UAAP, because I don't know."
Okumu further pointed out that though his squad ruled the Collegiate Grand Slam, it was not as though they faced off against all of the UAAP teams in that tournament. Aside from UST, Far Eastern University and University of the East were the only other UAAP teams to see action.
"We only played against three of the other (UAAP) teams, so I don't wanna judge ourselves before playing against everybody else," he stressed.
More than anything, Okumu is aware that the UAAP "is another game altogether." Preseason titles are no guarantees of success in the UAAP. National University memorably ruled the Collegiate Conference of the PVL from 2015 to 2017, but failed to reach the UAAP finals in all of those years.
Thus, Okumu wants his team to "tread carefully."
"We have to be polite as we move on, train, work hard. Because it's a really big challenge for us, and we wouldn't like to play so well in the offseason, and when the real tournament comes up, we don't perform," he said.
"I believe, it puts us in a very tight situation," he added.
Of course, Okumu would much rather have this offseason success, especially as it shows him how promising the Lady Maroons are.
"The fight is there," he said. "So we're gonna fight until the end."
The Lady Maroons finished with a 6-8 win-loss record in UAAP Season 80, good for sixth place behind Adamson University.
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