DLSU Lady Spikers UAAP 76 Preview: The importance of chemistry and a smooth transition

Ara Galang stood at the service line, lifting the ball with one hand while the other prepared to send it to the other side of the net. The barker at the scorer’s table of the MOA Arena announced that she was serving for the match, although no one could tell for sure, for he was competing with cheers of “Three sets! Three sets!” from the La Salle supporters.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles, however, labored hard to deny La Salle that last point. An attack by Fille Cainglet was received by Cyd Demecillo. Another by Michelle Gumabao was sent back by a Lady Eagle. Alyssa Valdez managed to return a drop hit by Mika Reyes. Jem Ferrer was then readied a set intended for the Lady Eagles team captain, Dzi Gervacio, but it instead came up short and ricocheted off the net and back into her hands before hitting the floor.

And with that, the DLSU Lady Spikers had completed another climb atop the UAAP mountain.

A season that began with a stunning loss to the UST Tigresses had ended with the team once again hoisting the championship, their third straight and first three-peat since their run from 2003-2005.

But with the loss of several vital cogs to the team’s previous run to the title and with the improvement of other teams who have also staked their respective claims on the UAAP crown, can the Lady Spikers still emerge on top and win their fourth straight title?

Last Year’s Record: 13-1 in the elimination round; Defeated fourth-seeded NationalUniversity in the Final Four; Swept the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the Finals to win their third straight title and their fourth in the last five years;

Team Additions: Rookies – Mary Joy Baron, Desiree Cheng, Kim Dy, Dawn Macandili; Returnee (from Injury) – Camille Cruz 

Personnel Losses: two-time Best Blocker and Season 75 Finals MVP Michelle Gumabao, Season 71 Rookie of the Year Melissa Gohing, Rochelle Sison, Wensh Tiu, Justine Tiu

Holdovers: Season 74 Rookie of the Year and Season 75 MVP Ara Galang, Season 75 MVP and Best Server Abi Maraño, Season 73 Rookie of the Year Mika Esperanza, Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo, Kim Fajardo, Denice Tan, Cienne Cruz, Carol Cerveza

The Offseason: The Lady Spikers won the PVF National Inter-Collegiate Volleyball Tournament during the summer, and then were dealt a surprising straight-sets defeat in the semifinals by a younger FEU side during the UniGames last October. The team regrouped and thrashed the Adamson Lady Falcons to cop the third place in the tournament after winning it last year.

The Competition: Pundits have already billed the NU Lady Bulldogs as a team capable of challenging the Lady Spikers for the crown, and for good reason. The team, which made the Final Four for the first time in team history last Season 75, won the championship in the first conference of the 10th Shakey’s V-League. The Lady Bulldogs will be bannered by one of the deadliest scorers in the league, Dindin Santiago, who will now be joined by her younger sister, Jaja, as well as Season 75 Rookie of the Year Aiko Urdas, Season 75 Best Attacker and Myla Pablo.

The UST Tigresses, after missing the Final Four bus the previous season, have also announced their intention to challenge the Lady Spikers for the Volleyball crown after winning the UniGames this October, behind the efforts of tournament MVP Jessey De Leon and Carmela Tunay, along with the Most Improved Player of the First Conference of the Shakey’s V-League, Pamela Lastimosa.

Last year’s runner-up, the Ateneo Lady Eagles, will feel the loss of several of the team’s veterans, such as Fille Cainglet, Gretchen Ho, Dzi Gervacio, and one of the best setters in recent years, Jem Ferrer. The team, however, is still led by Season 75 Best Scorer Alyssa Valdez, who will look to do a little bit of everything to keep the rookie-laden squad in contention for a title, along with holdovers Ella De Jesus, Marge Tejada, and libero Den-Den Lazaro.

The team that featured the league’s best floor defense last season, the Adamson Lady Falcons, are also in the conversation among contenders for Season 76, as they are led by Season 75 Best Server Sheila Pineda, as well as Mayette Zapanta, Faye Guevarra, Marleen Cortel, and Amanda Villanueva.

A young team that made waves in the offseason are the FEU Tamaraws, after defeating the Lady Spikers in the UniGames and eventually finishing second in the tournament. The team will be led by Remrem Palma and Gyzelle Sy, along with Geneveve Casugod and Bernadette Pons, who had an auspicious stint in the UniGames.

Outlook:  Two years ago, the Lady Spikers lost a lot of offensive firepower heading into Season 74 after the graduation of Jacqueline Alarca and Stephanie Mercado. The impact of their absence was blunted by  the emergence of the team’s holdovers like Gumabao, Maraño, Esperanza, and team captain Cha Cruz, along with a couple of then- blue-chip rookies, Mika Reyes and Ara Galang, who immediately made an impact for the team.

Now, with the loss of a two-time Best Blocker and a steady libero, it’s the defense of the team that will suffer, particularly their blocking and floor defense. And as before, the question now is whether the team’s returnees and newcomers can fill in the void left by these players in time for Season 76. The team still boasts of a talented group of players that has several years of championship experience, as well as a young crop of players such as Cheng, who is a possible Rookie of the Year candidate, along with an experienced coach in Ramil De Jesus.

Like previous years, the team still has the tools to win a fourth straight crown, only this year, with the loss of several important players, other members of the team will find themselves thrust into the harsh glare of the spotlight, and it will be interesting to see how they will respond to this challenge.

The First Game: The Lady Spikers will begin their title-retention bid against the Adamson Lady Falcons this Sunday, December 1, 4pm at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.