Greenstincts: Lady Spikers are still a work in progress

What a difference four days make. After last Saturday’s confidence-building straight sets win over the two-time defending champions Ateneo Lady Eagles, comes yesterday’s head-scratching three-set 21-25, 22-25, 21-25 loss to a very game and inspired UST six. The team was at times unfocused, overconfident, and had hangovers after beating the Lady Eagles; what was apparent during the closing moments of each set was DLSU lacked the Animo and fighting spirit to finish off the Tigresses.

The seemingly surprising 21-25 first set setback turned out to be the trend for the whole game. La Salle would take the lead at the first and second technical timeouts, but fade when the scores pass 20-point mark. What’s more upsetting was coach Ramil de Jesus needing to call timeouts to inspire his wards, and remind them to have presence of minds and have confidence in themselves.

After showing their fangs on defense to limit the production of Ateneo’s Alyssa Valdez, the Lady Spikers’ defense could not contain the UST duo of EJ Laure and spitfire Cherry Rondina who combined for 24 points. DLSU’s 29 errors not only contributed to more than a third of the Tigresses total score but also halted whatever momentum the La Salle six was trying to generate just to win a single set.

Coach Ramil, in desperate mode, tried to find anyone in the reserves to step-up to no avail. 13 players got their numbers called except for rookie Norielle Ipac, alas no player could duplicate the instant offense that third-year player Kim Dy provided during the Ateneo win; even Dy herself could only contribute three points.

Ara Galang’s 15 and 10 from Mary Joy Baron were not enough as their other fellow starters (including Dy) combined for only 11 points. Getting out-attacked, 26-33, La Salle (5-2) not only lost the chance to take the lead in the women’s volleyball standings but also opened another set of questions heading into the second round of eliminations.

Recapping the first round
Record-wise the Lady Spikers are a game worse than where they were a year ago (6-1, only losing to Ateneo in five sets) but individually, some players are leading or among the league leaders in several categories.

Majoy Baron and Mika Reyes are 1-2 in the blocking departments, combining 40 during the first round with Baron (1.04/set) having the advantage over her more experienced teammate’s 0.70 blocks per set.

In the service department, one of La Salle’s main weapons against Ateneo (13), four Lady Spikers are in the top 10 with team captain Kim Fajardo in the number two spot with 16 total aces, good for 0.70 average per set. Fajardo is also, by a sizable margin, the best setter in the eight-team league, averaging 8.17 excellent sets per set.

Dawn Macandili’s improved play at the back is evident in the numbers: leading the league in digs (72 total, 3.13/set) and number two in receiving (63 total excellent receives, with a 30.72 efficiency percentage).

Where La Salle fails to dominate the stat sheets is in the spiking department where success rate/percentage counts. Ara is the lone Lady Spiker in the top 10 (no. 8, 68/207 attempts, 32.85%) in spiking. Evident in the UST loss is DLSU’s poor kill rate (26/110, 23.6%); unable to notch crucial points when the team needed score just to extend the game, no Lady Spiker was able to kill the ball and score at will.

Aside from needing to find their missing confidence and end-set/end-game poise, what the Lady Spikers need to do is be consistent on a game-to-game basis. The win against the Lady Eagles might have been a pleasant surprise, but losses against NU and UST were far from expected; that both defeats happened during Wednesdays after Saturday wins (vs. UP and AdMU, respectively) is also a weird coincidence.

There Lady Spikers are not the same Lady Spikers of three or four years ago, where their mere presence inside the venue was enough for their opponents to figuratively “fall behind” by two sets. The league has caught up in terms of talent, coaching, and tactics and the only way La Salle gets back to being crowned as queens of the UAAP volleyball competitions is by raising its standard of play.

It’s actually fine is the Lady Spikers and coach Ramil de Jesus treated the first round as an extended training camp; committing mistakes, and losing a couple of games, but remaining as one of the title favorites. The challenge from hereon is to learn from the mistakes of the first seven matches, make the necessary adjustments, and push strong heading into the Final Four.

Second round action resumes on Saturday when La Salle takes on the FEU Lady Tamaraws.

Animo La Salle!