Sans the confetti and trophy presentation, it felt as if the Season 77 women’s volleyball championship has already been lost once again to the Ateneo Lady Eagles. The sizable crowd, including several famous personalities added more hype to, what on paper, is “just” the last elimination round games for both La Salle and Ateneo.
Save for the second set where the Green and White squad showed some semblance of fight and control, the 20-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-27 loss exposed flaws that showed their symptoms through the regular season: the lack of a vocal leader, coach Ramil de Jesus’ inability to get a consistent effort from his deep roster and coming up short when the moment demands excellence and execution from the Lady Spikers.
Now, more than ever, the team is feeling the effects of losing their spiritual and emotional leader in former team captain Aby Maraño. It may be too late into the season to ask a “communications expert” that Aby provided whether she was on Beast Mode or not. Ara Galang will always have the lion share of the offense and floor defense, but no other Lady Spiker finished in double figures next to Galang’s 20.
The La Salle starting six doesn’t even look like they are having fun on the court; no more of those stare-down, killer looks and happy celebrations whenever they score from a smashing kill or a demoralizing block from the net. For almost one year, the big dark cloud of the finals collapse still hangs over the heads of remaining Lady Spikers.
More than missing out at a historic four-peat, losing a thrice-to-beat advantage took out whatever mental and psychological edge the Taft-based squad had over their Katipunan counterparts. De Jesus, during one of the technical timeouts late in the game, pleaded to his girls to take every opportunity given to them to attack and not just hit the ball half-heartedly.
Whatever self-confidence or swag issues that the players have, better be gone by the time they hopefully clash again with the Lady Eagles in the finals. While all is not lost, it will be hard to compete in a game when you not play against the opposing side but your inner thoughts, doubts and emotions as well. RdJ and his coaching staff better dig deep into all their championship experience to give his wards the best chances of winning.
The Lady Spikers, while figuratively limping from two Ateneo losses, still mathematically have five arrows in their possession: a twice-to-beat edge against the winner between the 3rd and 4th seeds and, should they advance to the finals, three cracks at the Lady Eagles.
Coaches would alway say that you make up giving a point to you opponent by making sure to score the next for your squad. That should be the mindset for the Lady Spikers heading into the playoffs: move on and make the most of the given opportunities by hitting the ball with purpose, blocking with bad intentions and diving on the floor like there’s no tomorrow.
If there’s a silver lining from last year’s first runner-up finish, it’s that it doesn’t matter how you start, what matters most is how you finish.
Animo La Salle!