EVERYTHING is all set for the opening of NCAA Season 98, which opens with the men's basketball competition on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.

Unlike in the previous competition where men's basketball and women's volleyball events were only played aside from online taekwondo and chess, the new season will have more events with the return of the cheerleading, swimming, track and field, juniors' basketball, men's volleyball, beach volleyball and face-to-face taekwondo and chess competitions.

"We are hoping to return to a normal season. We look forward to a very successful season," said NCAA Season 98 Policy Board Dr. Jose Paolo Campos of first-time host Emilio Aguinaldo College during Monday's press conference.

"For the past two seasons, we have seen the resilience of our member school communities and student-athletes. As we begin Season 98, the Philippines' first collegiate athletic competition remains steadfast in instilling values in our students: "Achieve Greatness Every Day.' We continue to inspire everyone to do their best in everything they do, every day," he added.

EAC will play Arellano in the season opener set at 3:30 p.m. right after the hour-long opening ceremony.

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Mapua and San Beda clash in a rematch of last season's Final Four at 6 p.m. to cap the opening day doubleheader.

Defending two-time champion Letran will make its debut on the fourth playdate of the season against Jose Rizal University on Sept. 14.

Despite Abando bringing his act to the Korean Basketball League and Jeo Ambohot now in the pros, the Knights still have materials to compete for another championship with holdovers Fran Yu, Mark Sangalang and Brent Paraiso leading the charge.

But for Chiefs mentor Cholo Martin, the race for the championship is now wide open.

"It's anybody's ballgame. All teams are outstanding. Walang favorites, you will be surprised," said Martin.

Coach Bonnie Tan knows that despite being one of the fancied teams, the Knights are facing a tough challenge to remain in the throne.

"I agree. Lahat ng teams malakas at lumaki," said Tan, who steered the Muralla-based squad to a perfect 11-0 season last May. "Nandiyan pa rin ang San Beda, Mapua, CSB and Baste (San Sebastian)."

The Cardinals, except for Clint Escamis who moved to another school, remained intact for their bid to end more than three decades of title drought.

Unlike in Season 97 where there was no pre-tournament build-up due to pandemic restrictions, Mapua coach Randy Alcantara that the ideal preparations for the new season helped the teams to scout well.

"I agree sa mga sinasabi ng mga coaches. Sa haba ng preparation, parang even lahat ng teams," said Alcantara.