(Photo by Patrice Jerica A. Beltran/ The Varsitarian)

The UST Golden Tigresses’ unblemished Round 1 record in Season 86 represents not only one of their strongest starts in history but also their best start under the leadership of head coach Emilio “Kung Fu” Reyes.

Reyes had never achieved a first-round sweep since taking over from Shaq de los Santos in 2015 until this season. The last time the Tigresses achieved a first-round sweep was under former head coach August Sta. Maria in Season 69, which was one of their championship seasons.

However, despite achieving his best start with the team, Reyes is focused on the upcoming games rather than dwelling on the present.

“Mahaba pa rin ang liga, pero luckily na-‘Lucky 7’ namin ‘yong record namin ngayong first round,” Reyes said. “Mas malaking challenge ‘yong papasok na second round.”

The start was surprising even for the Tigresses, who had entered the season without expectations, as they were expected to undergo a rebuild following the departure of Eya Laure.

“Super grateful ako na umabot kami sa 7-0, although wala talaga kaming expectations ngayong season, tine-take lang talaga namin one game at a time and gusto lang talaga naming umuwi nang walang regrets,” sophomore setter Cassie Carballo said.

The Tigresses’ dominant first round was no fluke. Rookie Angeline Poyos has emerged as one of the league’s most dominant attackers, Carballo has remained a force in the setting department, and team captain Bernadett Pepito has been spearheading the team’s defense as libero.

They showcased their strength by dominating the NU Lady Bulldogs, outlasting the DLSU Lady Spikers, and defeating the FEU Lady Tamaraws via reverse sweep in key character-building games this season.

Despite their strong start, the Tigresses are now focused on maintaining their momentum as they head into the second round.

“Sinabi namin last time na sinimulan namin ng maganda yung first round, and grateful na natapos namin siya ng maganda with a win,” said the rookie stud Poyos. “I know na marami pa ring [kailangan] trabahuhin and marami pang ia-adjust sa mga susunod pang games, at talagang bawal pa magrelax since may isa pang round.”

For Pepito, despite having no specific expectations, the Tigresses are determined to showcase their abilities and continue to surprise their opponents in the second round.

“Sabi nga nila na no expectations kami this season,” she said. “Ang importante for us is mapakita namin kung ano talaga ‘yong tinatraining namin.”

“Marami pang kulang. Marami pa kaming kailangan iimprove, and hindi kami pwede maging complacent lalo na sa standing namin ngayon kasi alam namin na mas maraming teams ‘yong mas gigil na makabawi sa amin.”

UST will face the Ateneo Blue Eagles to open its second-round campaign on Wednesday, March 20, 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Ernest Martin G. Tuazon