It was quite a powerful yet worrying scene when the cameras of the league’s official broadcaster panned to former DLSU team captain Aby Maraño. Having already used up her playing years, the former Lady Spiker, dressed in street clothes, was watching the game from the stands yet had the same intense look that students, alumni and supports have grown to love for the past five years.
The fact that someone outside the official roster treated the last game of the elimination round with more intensity should be a wake-up call to the current DLSU Lady Spikers.
It has been exactly 302 days since La Salle lost in Game 4 of the Season 76 women’s volleyball finals to the same Ateneo squad. Last Sunday’s 22-25, 27-25, 25-16, 14-25, 9-15 loss only proved that the Lady Eagles still have the psychological edge over either DLSU counterparts and that their almost year-long dominance over the Lady Spikers get to be extended for a few more weeks.
I kinda like the team with a chip on their shoulders; an underdog tag and mentality to prove doubters wrong.
Despite only losing Maraño to graduation and Mika Esperanza injury, the line-up on paper seem to favor the Taft-based squad. For most of last Sunday’s game, the Lady Spikers were able to keep in step, and even take the driver’s seat against the defending champion.
Leading after the first two technical timeouts of the first set, 8-4 and 16-14, DLSU was found wanting at the end of the set, yielding the opening frame 25-22. For the next two sets, I saw something in the play of the Lady Spikers that many supporters, experts and critics were yearning for in Season 77. Confident, flowing, unpredictable play. Check. The Great Green Wall together with tremendous floor defense? You bet. In one word: dominance.
After proving to be the steadier team in taking the second set, 27-25, La Salle upped the momentum and ante in the third frame. Capitalizing on the 15 Ateneo errors, it seemed like the knockout punch was already thrown when the Lady Spikers took the set, 25-16 and a 2-1 set lead.
Aside from the battle on the floor, the game was also a virtual chess match against DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus and his Ateneo counterpart, Tai Bundit. De Jesus was quick to adjust his libero and open hitter substitution when needed while Bundit relied on his coaching by meditation and motivation.
Key La Salle bench players – rookie Christine Soyud, sophomore Mary Joy Baron and libero Cienne Cruz contributed heavily in the second and third sets. A forgettable fourth set for DLSU only gave more drama to what is a virtual sports-soap opera that has been already running for more than three years.
At the 8-all mark of the fifth and final set, Ateneo went on to score seven of the game’s last eight points to win 9-15. The Lady Eagles were able to score four attack points while La Salle gave up three errors and only had a Mika Reyes attack as a response.
14-0 records are overrated
If we can use DLSU’s regular season record last year, sweeping the first and second rounds, while dropping only two sets does not guarantee a championship. Without the pressure of having to go undefeated, the team can now play loose; jump, hit, spike, block and serve naturally and without hesitation.
The Lady Spikers were hardly tested in the eliminations last year and it’s good to see the team being stretched, challenged and tested this early. I kinda like the team with a chip on their shoulders.; an underdog tag and mentality to prove doubters wrong. The team’s worst moment of Season 77 maybe the spark that will finally light up the fire within.
Key stats of the game
Ateneo was able to negate the 46 errors they committed by having a better attack percentage (49/165 29.6% vs La Salle’s 32/142 22.5%). As the game was stretched to five sets, the scoring in the clutch was comparable to free-throw shooting in basketball: percentages matter.
DLSU team captain Ara Galang was held well below her 19 point average, finishing with 11 points from eight attacks and three service aces. Ara was clearly outplayed by her counterpart Alyssa Valdez who scored 26 points, and was at time lost in La Salle’s offense.
No other Lady Spiker finished in double digits with Cyd Demecillo and Mika Reyes the two closest with nine and eight respectively.
DLSU versus UE
Curiously, both Season 76 finalists’ last games were against cellar dweller University of the East Lady Warriors. The Lady Spikers improved their once unblemished record to 6-0 with a 25-6, 25-16, 25-11 drubbing of UE last January 4.
La Salle not only dominated the scoreboard but also key statistics of attacks (27-12), blocks (10-3) and service (16-1) and committed less errors (17-22). The two-pronged attack of Season 75 MVP Galang and Mika Reyes each had 10 points; enabling the eight-time UAAP champions to open 2015 with a convincing win.
The first round battle might have been lost but the season volleyball war. The team clearly needs to play harder, better, faster and stronger and see the silver linings of Sunday’s five-set loss.
Animo La Salle!