By John Bryan Ulanday

REIGNING champion Ateneo crosses paths with rival La Salle in an early gigantic collision as the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) rolls out the women’s volleyball tilt side-by-side with the ongoing Final Four basketball action at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Game time is at 4 p.m. with the Lady Eagles seeking vengeance against their fierce nemeses after bowing to the Lady Archers back in Season 82 before the pandemic halted the volleyball tilt and the remainder of the UAAP events.

Before that, Santo Tomas clashes with Far Eastern University (FEU) at 10 a.m. while then league-leader National University (NU) seeks to pick up where it left off against Adamson at 12 p.m. University of the Philippines (UP) and University of the East (UE) cap off the four-game opening bill at 6 p.m.

Back in March 2020, the Lady Eagles suffered a 17-25, 25-17, 17-25, 15-25 loss against the Lady Archers to start their title defense bid on a low note — making it a perfect chance this time despite a long delay to finally exact revenge.

But more than that, Ateneo is just relishing an opportunity to play amid the still ongoing pandemic like the rest of the UAAP field.

“We’re excited to play again, especially our players. We’re thankful and at the same time nervous because of course, we have not played in two years. We will find a way,” said coach Oliver Almadro, who is banking on a young team led by Faith Nisperos and Dani Ravena to lead their title retention goal.

That goal will not be a walk in the park as the Lady Eagles have to adjust from the departure of seasoned aces Kat Tolentino, Jho Maraguinot, Jules Samonte and Ponggay Gaston.

The Lady Archers, who also lost veterans Tin Tiamzon, Aduke Ogunsanyan and Michelle Cobb to graduation, will flaunt an equally promising squad bannered by Jolina Dela Cruz, Thea Gagate and Leila Cruz.