MANILA, Philippines -- UAAP volleyball fans only saw them for one game, but Aby Maraño has been watching De La Salle University's highly-touted rookie class for a couple of years already.
Thus, the former Lady Spikers captain was not at all surprised to see their freshmen players make their mark in their first -- and only -- game of the UAAP Season 82 women's volleyball tournament.
Indeed, it's fair to say that the middle blocker famed for her "beast mode" attitude inside the court expected nothing less from their rookies.
"Dapat lang," Maraño told ABS-CBN News. "Ako as a senior, sa tingin ko, dapat lang ganyan na kataas ang level ng nilalaro nila ngayon."
The Lady Spikers made their UAAP debut on March 7, when they defeated archrivals and defending champions Ateneo de Manila University in four sets, 25-17, 17-25, 25-17, 25-15.
Senior spiker Tin Tiamzon shone in that game, putting up 17 points and 12 digs. Sophomore Jolina dela Cruz had 13 points and 10 receptions in a solid outing.
It was the performance of their rookies that had La Salle fans most excited, however. Thea Gagate, their 6-foot-2 middle blocker, had five kill blocks on her way to 10 points, while Leila Cruz added 9 markers. Baby Jyne Soreno came off the bench to score 8 points.
"Mataas talaga ang potential (nila)," Maraño said of their rookies. "Nakakatuwa din na itong mga bata na 'to, sa training gusto rin talagang matuto at gumaling, lumakas."
Now the skipper of F2 Logistics, Maraño had observed the development of the Lady Spikers as they all trained together in La Salle's Enrique Razon complex. She has seen how Gagate, Cruz, and the other La Salle rookies developed since they were in senior high school, and so she knew what they had to offer.
Moreover, she pointed out that if not for the K-12 system, these rookies would already be in their third seasons in the UAAP.
"'Di ba naging senior high pa sila? Supposedly, third year na nila ngayon," said Maraño. "So expected ko na 'yun, kasi parang pang-third year na nila, 'di ba."
"Since senior high sila sa La Salle, 'di naman sila tine-treat na parang baby eh," she added. "Si Coach Ramil (de Jesus), gusto talaga niya, from senior year to first year college, pukpukan lagi ang ensayo, para reding-ready ka na pag sumabak ka na sa UAAP."
"So I guess, tamang-tama lang 'yung pinapakita ng mga rookies ngayon, kasi tama 'yung timing. Parang pang-third year na nila," she stressed. "Ganyan na dapat kataas."
As impressive as their debut performances were, Maraño expects that Gagate, Cruz, and company will only improve as the years go by.
This was one reason that she was so disappointed that UAAP Season 82 was terminated -- the national team captain had hoped to see their rookies be tested repeatedly by the rest of the UAAP teams.
Instead, they had just one game to show a tantalizing glimpse of their potential.
"What more pag nagdire-diretso? Limang years pa sila, 'di ba?" said Maraño. "Grabe, magaabot-abot pa sila ng mga senior high na potential din ngayon."
"Doon ako nae-excite," she added. "Doon sa batch ng mga susunod na Lady Spikers, kasi talagang very talented and potential 'yung mga susunod."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).