Defying DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus’ assessment, it turns out that the “underdog” Lady Spikers only needed three days to fully prepare for the two-time defending champions Ateneo Lady Eagles. The 25-22, 25-22, 25-21 Game 1 win was a testament to the resiliency of La Salle as well as their relentlessness on defense, pushing the team one step closer to UAAP title number nine.
After finally disposing their semifinal foe, the FEU Lady Tamaraws, RDJ was wary of the short turnaround time and the team playing its fifth game in two weeks; while Ateneo had the luxury of resting one full week after easily disposing the UP Lady Maroons.
Whether is was the nerves, or the Lady Eagles having more energy, DLSU opened all three sets flat and faced deficits of 0-4, 1-6, and 4-8 in the first set, 9-12 in the second set, and 3-7 in the third. But as the sets wore on, everyone inside the packed Smart Araneta Coliseum could see that the Lady Spikers just would not give up; that their will to win was too strong against Alyssa Valdez and company.
It took not one or two Lady Spiker to trim and overcome the early Ateneo leads, but a combined effort from all of the La Salle six. Mika Reyes (six) and Majoy Baron (three) anchored DLSU’s net defense en route to tallying nine of the team’s 13 total blocks, while Ara Galang and Kim Dy provided demoralizing and set-ending kills against the defense of the Lady Eagles.
Team captain Kim Fajardo, 39 excellent sets, orchestrated the La Salle offense to perfection while libero Dawn Macandili (11 digs, nine receptions) was a force at the back row.
It has really been an up and down season for DLSU. The first round loss to the NU Lady Bulldogs left everyone in the Lasallian community scratching their heads and asking what went wrong. Then, just when the team’s direction seem to turn in the right direction after beating Ateneo in the eliminations in straight sets, the UST Tigresses humbled La Salle with a straight-sets victory of their own.
Two more losses, one against the Lady Eagles in their penultimate second round match and the shock, come-from-behind, five-set loss in the semifinals against the FEU Lady Tamaraws seem to put more doubt and questions to what the Lady Spikers can achieve this season. But just when the going gets tough, when their proverbial backs are against the wall, this batch of Green and White women’s volley squad come together and produce magic on the taraflex floor.
It is scary for the Ateneo Lady Eagles that their final opponent are finding their confidence and finally figuring things out during this best-of-three series; that after playing sixteen games, La Salle is finally peaking at the right time and playing to their true potential.
Asked if they plan to wrap the series on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena, coach Ramil and Fajardo refused to take the bait and give the Lady Eagles motivation and bulletin board material heading into Game 2. Those quite and reserved demeanors have served the team well in this roller-coaster season; asking for someone or the whole team to be in “beast mode” or exude overflowing swag isn’t just their style.
Do not be fooled by this team’s quietness on and off the floor, or the dancing and celebrating happening after every won point. This Lady Spikers team, after two years of watching Ateneo hoist the trophy that should have been theirs, is as hungry as ever. Everyone should expect a fiercer, perhaps longer Game 2 as the Lady Eagles would surely make adjustments and won’t simply hand the title to La Salle.
The UAAP women’s volleyball crown is already within their grasps, all the Lady Spikers need to do is win another game and take it.
Animo La Salle!