I felt like a freshman beat writer as I made my way inside the decades-old, PhilSports Arena. I have a watched a game or two of men’s basketball but watching a women’s volleyball game and entering the players/coaches/media gate (Gate 5) was something very new to me. On the way to the venue and the said gate, I felt at times unsure, confused, and a bit scared of how things will work out.
I’m sensing that DLSU Lady Spikers and the Lasallian community had those similar emotions and mixed feelings hours and minutes before tip-off. The pressure to lead, guide, and perform was on team captain Kim Fajardo’s shoulders, but once the whistle was blown, all eyes in the Green gallery were squared in to Ara Galang and how her knees would hold up after her devastating knee injury last year.
Watching Ara practice warm-up serves were one thing, but seeing her first official service turn was another. Sitting three rows from where Galang took her place to serve, I could tell that it wasn’t just another serve: that there was equal mix of wanting to just get the first one out of the way, and at the same time performing as if nothing happened almost eleven months ago.
Galang’s first serve was actually a descent one. Unfortunately the rest of the team was either too amped up on adrenaline or was really caught napping in the first set as the FEU Lady Tamaraws stormed to a 2-8 lead. DLSU managed to find its bearing, getting the lead at the second technical timeout mark, 16-14. The Lady Spikers’ four blocks in the first set were crucial in overcoming a feisty FEU crew, enabling the Taft-based squad to eke out with a one set lead, 29-27.
The script in the first set was repeated in the second as La Salle trailed early, 8-13 before regaining a slim lead, 16-15. Back-to-back kills by rookie May Luna and Mika Reyes, plus another block from Mika gave DLSU set point and eventually the set, 25-23. Inspired by their six graduating veterans, and spitfire May Luna, La Salle stamped its class in the third frame, never trailed, won the set 25-20, and game courtesy of four straight attacks from Galang, Reyes, Carol Cerveza, and Luna.
Despite missing senior Cyd Demicillo because of a shin injury, it’s refreshing to see DLSU coach Ramil de Jesus utilize ten of 13 available players. Shaking out an ankle injury, Mika Reyes led all scorers with 13, 12 coming from attack points. Continuing her strong game from last season, Cerveza tallied ten points (with two service aces) while Ara contributing another ten.
DLSU’s veterans versus UP’s youth brigade
Yesterday’s win against the rookie and sophomore-laden UP Lady Maroons showed just how good and at the same time bad the current batch of Lady Spikers can be. Disposing the first two sets in quick fashion 25-14 and 25-13, La Salle felt a little fight from UP in the third frame: trailing 12-16 and eventually yielding the set, 19-25.
The La Salle six committed an uncharacteristic nine unforced errors, while allowing UP’s spikers to gain a bit of confidence and getting out-attacked, 11-14. It might a simple case of DLSU stepping off the gas or getting too confident against a young UP squad, but the set showed that the biggest threat to the Lady Spikers going into this season is not any of the other seven UAAP teams, but the Lady Spikers themselves.
Self-doubts, bad habits, and inconsistent play might not mean much during the elimination round, but will be factors once the pressure of the playoffs, and hopefully finals comes along.
After getting only three players in double figures against FEU, five La Salle players finished in twin digits, albeit with coach Ramil utilizing only seven players. Mary Joy Baron is continuing her quest to be a difference maker this year, finishing with 17 points, with 12 coming from attacks and four blocks.
Rookie Tin Tiamson, meanwhile, rebounded from a forgettable debut against the Lady Tams (one point) by scoring 13 points, including four impressive service aces. DLSU’s senior trio of Ara, Mika and Carol added 13, 10, and 12 points, respectively.
Up next are matches against a similarly formidable National U team on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena and the Soaring Lady Falcons of Adamson on Saturday at the Filoil-Flying V Arena.
Animo La Salle!