When the DLSU Lady Spikers clawed back from a 20-24 deficit in the second set to tie the score at 24-all and eventually win 28-26, I was 99.99% sure that La Salle would wrap up the third set and secure UAAP women’s volleyball title number nine. It turns out that the two-time defending champion Ateneo Lady Eagles only needed a glimmer of hope and a 0.01% chance to extend the series into a third and deciding game.
The 25-18, 28-26, 17-25, 16-25, 11-15 is eerily similar to the collapse and eventual reserve sweeps that DLSU encountered against the same Ateneo team during the second round and Game 1 of their semifinal match against the FEU Lady Tamaraws. Loading up on their service game and combining sharp kills, great execution, and flawless defense, the Lady Spikers had an easy time in the first frame en route to winning the set, 25-18.
It was a neck-and-neck second set and no team led by more than two points until Ateneo held a 18-21 lead and eventually stretch it to 20-24. La Salle hanged-on and willed their way to a two set to none lead courtesy of two kills by Ara Galang and Kim Dy. Whether it was physical or mental fatigue, overconfidence, or bad luck, DLSU came out flat in the next two sets, giving Ateneo momentum and hope to win the game and tie the series.
Down 8-12 in the fifth set, Mika Reyes led a mini rally, scoring on quick hit and a service ace to trim the Lady Eagles’ lead 10-12. Another point for La Salle would surely put the pressure against the Ateneo six but the Katipunan squad would go on to score three of the last four points and send the blue-colored half of the MoA Arena crowd in wild celebration.
Unfortunately for the Lady Spikers and head coach Ramil de Jesus, they figuratively knocked Ateneo down twice and sent them against the ropes but did not go for the knock out. The good thing for the Green and White squad though, is that they have been in this situation before; albeit not for the women’s volleyball championship.
La Salle will need adjust in the deciding game; tighten their net and floor defense that allowed three-time MVP Alyssa Valdez to come away with 34 huge points, and minimize the 33 unforced errors they gave to the Lady Eagles. Coach Ramil and team captain Kim Fajardo must also devise ways on how DLSU’s offense can be more efficient as the Lady Spikers 47/153 (30.7%) spiking rate was a far cry from Game One’s impressive 41/97 (42.2%).
Both teams are in not-tomorrow, winner-takes-all, do-or-die, all-you-can-muster-deciding-game-cliche situations on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Throw all the offensive and defensive statistics that both teams dominated for the whole season away, Game Three will be a test of character, heart, and who wants it the most.
Ghosts of Wednesdays and MoA Arena playdates past
With a combined elimination and playoffs win-loss record of 15-5, the Lady Spikers have pretty interesting results when it comes to Wednesday matches or games played at the Mall of Asia Arena. Three of La Salle’s losses have occurred on a Wednesday (Feb. 10 vs. NU, March 2 vs UST, and today’s game) and four have been wagged inside MoA Arena (Feb. 10 vs. NU, April 10 vs. Ateneo, April 17 vs. FEU, and today).
It may not really be a factor heading this weekend, but Saturday’s game will be played inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum where the Lady Spikers have a more respectable 2-0 win-loss record (all against Ateneo) against 2-4 in MoA Arena this Season 78.
It will take more than a change of venue for the Lady Spikers to finally end the two-year reign of the Ateneo Lady Eagles; teamwork, trust, just enough confidence and swag, and most importantly a burning Animo will spell the difference between finally slaying the ghosts of past Ateneo championships or another offseason of going back to the drawing board.
Game Three will be intense and expect both teams to leave their heart, sweat, and blood on the floor. I really hope that when the Lady Spikers once again get the Ateneo six pinned in a corner or against the ropes, they throw the knockout punch and finally put the Lady Eagles away.
Animo La Salle!