The dust had not yet settled at the Mall of Asia Arena when I heard familiar chants of “Beat Ateneo! Animo La Salle!” After a nightmarish five-set upset during Game 1 last Sunday, the DLSU Lady Spikers finally put the FEU Lady Tamaraws in their rearview mirrors with an inspired, focused, and efficient 25-15, 27-25, 25-21 straight-sets win yesterday.
The win not only sealed La Salle’s eighth straight final appearance and fifth straight year duking out against the Ateneo Lady Eagles for the title, but more importantly, it lifted a lot of pressure and doubts off the mind of head coach Ramil de Jesus. RDJ admitted having sleepless and restless nights after Sunday’s 25-15, 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 14-16 upset, forcing yesterday’s do-or-die rubber match against the equally experienced FEU side.
For the women’s volleyball finals though, de Jesus admitted that the short time of preparation, three days against one week for their Katipunan counterparts, can spell the difference in the best-of-three series. But if the Lady Spikers manage to duplicate the intensity and hunger that they displayed in Game Two against FEU, UAAP women’s volleyball title number nine should be an attainable goal.
The second set personified how dangerous La Salle can be when pushed against the wall. Trailing 19-23, the Lady Spikers refused to give up an inch and the set to a gutsy FEU squad; tying the game at 23-all and even getting the lead courtesy of a service ace by Majoy Baron. After going into extra points to decide the set, DLSU got the upper hand, 26-25, from an FEU error and senior Cyd Demecillo gave the Lady Spikers the 2-0 set lead with another service ace.
In between the second and third set, I heard another supporter perfectly say out loud what was in my mind: “Last set na please (Please, let it be the last set)”. FEU is known for its slow starts, as the second round pairing with La Salle and Game 1 of the semifinals have shown. Instead, the Lady Spikers grabbed the Lady Tamaraws by the horns, zooming to a quick 8-2 and 16-9 leads by not committing a single unforced error until that point.
The Lady Tamaraws would mount a rally, trimming the DLSU’s lead to four, 18-22 but with their UAAP careers on the line, Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, Demecillo refused to let this game be the last of their collegiate chapters. The trio combined to score 26 of the Lady Spikers’ 75 point total with Mika tallying all of the team’s three blocks.
Minimizing their unforced errors to 21 (against 37 last game) and limiting the production of FEU spiker Bernadette Pons to 10 points after registering 22 during the first semifinal match were keys to the game. Despite recording only three blocks, the Lady Spikers made it up by loading on their serves en route to 13 service aces.
The favorite underdog
With both teams splitting the season series with one win a piece, neither the Lady Spikers or Lady Eagles truly deserves the tag as underdog in the title series. Despite coach Ramil reasoning that his wards lost the last elimination round game and the championship last year to coach Tai Bundit and his players, hence La Salle being the underdogs, it’s still 50-50 for both schools.
Ateneo has shown that despite losing star libero Denden Lazaro to graduation and Maddie Madayag this year to injury, the Lady Spikers must first pass through Katipunan for the UAAP women’s volleyball crown. La Salle and its graduating players meanwhile, look determined to write off their UAAP careers on high notes; waiting more than a year (March 15, 2015) to get the chance of exacting revenge after getting swept by Ateneo in Season 77.
One notable difference from last season to this one is one Ara Galang. The former La Salle captain was absent during last year’s championship series due to knee injuries suffered during the semifinal round. It will be a blast seeing how the Season 75 co-MVP squares off with two-time reigning MVP Alyssa Valdez as well as the match-up of star setters in Kim Fajardo and Jia Morado.
Expect tickets to the best-of-three affair (Game 1, April 23 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum; Game 2, April 27 at the Mall of Asia Arena; and if necessary Game 3, April 30 back at the Smart Araneta Coliseum) to be limited and hard to find. So if you were like coach Ramil de Jesus (I was) and was getting sleepless or restless nights, I hope you had a peaceful sleep last night and dreamt of green and white balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling.
Animo La Salle!