Watching DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus’ blank stare while the whole arena was celebrating the formal entry of the DLSU Lady Spikers to the championship round was equally surprising yet understandable. Witnessing your ace player and team captain take a bad fall and necessitating the use of a stretcher made what was a bounce-back and statement 26-24, 21-25, 25-16, 25-21 win, bittersweet.
As social media got flooded with pleas of #PrayForAra, there’s word that the former MVP might have a possible mild MCL sprain. Not only would the eight-time champions face an uphill climb against the thrice-to-beat advantage of the Lady Eagles but now have to do it with seemingly one hand tied behind their back.
Game Two of the step-ladder semifinal was actually a fun game to watch. Showing none of the rust and flat play from Wednesday’s straight sets loss, La Salle displayed dominant form even during the second set when the DLSU defense could not handle NU rookie Jorele Singh’s serve.
Unlike the first semis match where the Lady Bulldogs ran circles around the Lady Spikers, La Salle would get its offense and defense clicking, getting the better of their NU counterparts in the attack (48-45) and blocking (16-3) departments. Ara who finished with 25 points, 21 coming from attacks and four blocks finally had the support she needed from fellow starters Joy Baron and Cyd Demecillo who both tallied 15 points.
As of writing, with Galang already ruled out for the championship series and sophomore Desiree Cheng not a hundred percent, consistent production from the reserves will bode well for the team in the next few games.
Baron left her mark throughout the game, making surprise attacks from the middle that the NU defense did not anticipated while Demecillo’s best moment was when she scored on the last three plays to close out the third frame and a 2-1 set lead. Not to be overlooked was star setter Kim Fajardo who masterfully orchestrated the team’s offense; giving equal opportunity to her spikers while keeping the Lady Bulldogs defense guessing.
From finding their missing mojos, I do hope that this team displays the same kind of fight, spirit and animo against an opponent that they have yet to master this season. Coach Ramil is already expecting the worst case scenario of the team playing their title series san one Ara Galang, but it should not mean that the UAAP should already etch the school name of Ateneo on the championship trophy.
For one, rust will also play a factor against the Lady Eagles as it will be three weeks since their last competitive game. Mentally, playing a weakened La Salle might also make the defending champions underestimate their opponents or make them overconfident. A team with nothing to lose like DLSU might actually work to their advantage.
Whatever bad form or poor type of play the Lady Spikers showed during the elimination and Game One of the semi-final round doesn’t really matter much now. Yesterday’s win showed that the team can close out sets when they needed to and when their back are against a proverbial wall, they can display what real La Salle volleyball is all about.
It’s number one against number two. The defending champion against the previous three-peat winner. Ateneo head coach Tai Bundit on one side against coach Ramil de Jesus on the other. Ateneo versus La Salle, La Salle versus Ateneo. It really doesn’t get any much better than this.
Animo La Salle!