Flying high: Lady Eagles achieve a women's volleyball breakthrough

ATENEO made an impact in the previous decade by winning three UAAP championships, including the improbable 2014 title run.

The Lady Eagles' success would not be made possible if not for the foundation they laid in the early 2010s.

Exactly nine years ago Sunday, the Katipunan-based women's volleyball program achieved a breakthrough.

With the school's first big star Charo Soriano manning the sidelines, Ateneo claimed its first-ever Shakey’s V-League championship by outlasting Adamson, 24-26, 25-18, 25-22, 19-25, 15-11, on May 17, 2011 at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.

The Lady Eagles won the best-of-three series, 2-0, to end a title drought which spanned for more than three decades.

The last major women’s volleyball title which Ateneo was in the NCAA in the 1976-77 season under coach Pitong Custodio.

“We’ve been waiting to give back to the school ever since. We always should have a goal and one of that is to give a championship title to our beloved Alma Mater,” said Soriano.

Then 25-year old, Soriano became the youngest coach in the league to win the crown in the league, which is the percursor to the current PVL.

"Ako I’ve been telling my old teammates na huwag tayong mawalan ng support for the team parang we always should have a goal and that is to give a championship title to our beloved alma mater. Even not as a player but as a coach or part of the coaching staff or whatever, I’m very, very happy," said Soriano, who is the founder of the Beach Volleyball Republic.

“I am very very happy because after all this time and after all this decades, nabigyan namin ng privilege at honor yung school and for me, that is very fulfilling,” she added.

“We are very, very, happy especially the kids I’m very, very proud of them. Happy lang kami na lot of people are supporting us. People have always been there for us. We haven’t been a winning team, we’re not what you call a champion team even.”

Soriano was the main reason of the Lady Eagles' rise. In her final UAAP season in 2008, Soriano gave Ateneo a breakthrough Final Four appearance.

The Lady Eagles, bannered by Alyssa Valdez and the famed Fab 5 led by Fille Cainglet and Finals MVP Jem Ferrer, learned a lot from Soriano.

“Yun nga ang sinasabi ko sa kanila, champions is not actually winning (but) being a champion athlete is actually knowing how to lose. Knowing yung feeling na natatalo parang it always transcends and grow better,” said Soriano.

Coaching the Lady Eagles' V-League team was a high moment for Soriano, who last played indoor in 2017 and last seen in the sand court in BVR in 2018.

"Sabi nga nila, bata-bata mo pa pero yun nga maybe its not about the age parang life has this thing na parang they have to give you something at one time. Maybe its called fate, maybe its called destiny I don’t know pero parang it was right there. Parang sakto lang na nag-meet yung team at this point in time," said Soriano.

"Yun nga ang sinasabi ko sa kanila, champion is not actually winning all the time (but) being a champion athlete is actually knowing how to lose. Knowing yung feeling na natatalo parang it always transcends and grow, and be better," she added.

For Soriano, it doesn’t make much of a difference by winning as a coach during that time.

"As long as I helped, as long as I was there, I can’t ask for anything more. I really can’t," saie Soriano.

Definitely, the current Ateneo squad, which has its title-retention campaign in the UAAP spoiled by the COVID-19 pandemic, will learn a lot from Soriano's word of wisdom in 2011 which is still applicable now.