Greenstincts: Lady Spikers back as Queens of UAAP volleyball

The only thing really missing from yesterday’s championship celebrations was Queen’s We Are The Champions song blasting through the coliseum speakers. After two years of heartbreak and misery, the UAAP women’s volleyball title finally comes back to De La Salle University as the Lady Spikers wrapped up Season 78 with a 19-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-16 victory.

La Salle’s UAAP title number nine, all under the tutelage of head coach Ramil de Jesus, has easily been the team’s most challenging to date. During the past four championship seasons of 71, and 73 to 75, DLSU teams have combined to post a 53-3 win-loss record in the elimination rounds. This current batch of Lady Spikers posted a 11-3 record with losses against NU and UST in the first round, and against AdMU in the second, relegating them to the second seed in the Final Four.

Once DLSU led 8-2, 12-3, and 16-5 in the fourth set, it was just a matter of finding out what the final score of the game will be.

The FEU Lady Tamaraws negated La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage and forced a rubber match for the last Finals ticket with a come-from-behind five setter but DLSU showed its class in Game 2, notching a straight set 25-15, 27-25, 25-21 win to arrange a titular showdown against the Lady Eagles for the fifth straight year.

Easily disposing the two-time defending champions in Game One, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21, everyone expected balloons and confetti to rain at the Mall of Asia Arena as the Lady Spikers took an early two sets to none lead in Game Two. The Great Green Wall was nowhere to be found in the third to fifth frames as three-time MVP Alyssa Valdez threw her weight around and registered 34 booming points.

Tying the series at one game a piece, Ateneo seemed to have the slight momentum and confidence heading into Game Three; with the Lady Eagles drawing first blood and taking the first set 25-19, the Green and White gallery, in all honesty, was hoping for the best but also preparing for the worst.

Ateneo coach Tai Bundit made adjustments in the second game after getting blanked in Game One. Yesterday, it was the turn of RDJ to adjust and the 18-year DLSU tactician pulled off the move of the season. Switching reserve libero Carmel Saga into a hitter and inserting her for eventual Finals MVP Kim Dy gave the La Salle back row an extra defensive player together with Dawn Macandili.

From a 41.44% spiking rate in Game Two, the improved La Salle floor defense brought Ateneo’s efficiency to 33% (46/139) and limited the Lady Eagle’s offense to a pair of 16 points in the final two sets. After a disappointing first set where the Katipunan six scored 10 of the first eleven points, team captain Kim Fajardo started to assert her will on offense; making several spiker-like attempts and finishing with six points along with her 51 excellent sets.

Alyssa Valdez might have scored 31 points, but her team gave up 33 unforced errors for the second consecutive game, while La Salle limited theirs to just 19. Once DLSU led 8-2, 12-3, and 16-5 in the fourth set, it was just a matter of finding out what the final score of the game and somehow felt like an extended championship coronation and parade for the Lady Spikers.

Cyd Demicillo, Ara Galang, and Mika Reyes, three of the team’s five graduating players, each scored nine points while Kim Dy and Majoy Baron, expected to be the Lady Spikers’ one-two punch of the future led the team with 17 and 11 points, respectively.

Mika Esperanza and #FearTheBeer
I could easily recall DLSU clinching the women’s volleyball title in Season 73 with Mika Esperanza as the starting rookie setter. Volleyball was not that big back then and the showdown against the UST Tigress happened at the Fil-oil Arena in San Juan. More than her talent as the team’s alternate conductor and floor general, it’s the former Rookie of the Year’s wide smile that I will remember the most.

Carol Cerveza had a breakout season last year, leading to the Fear the Beer hashtag and “movement”. With Demicillo injured to start Season 78, Cervaza was put into the starting lineup but eventually went back to the bench when Cyd returned. I would like to believe that her funny antics during warm-ups and player introductions not only made for great personal entertainment but also kept the regulars and the team’s rookies loose during the crucial moments.

I was secretly wishing for a little bit of floor time for the two super seniors but I guess leaving DLSU and the UAAP with gold medals around their necks would be the next best thing. Farewell and good luck to our own version of “fab five” – Cyd, Mika Esperanza, Carol, Ara, and Mika Reyes.

3rd UAAP General Championship
Kudos also to all the La Salle teams who have competed in all UAAP events; giving DLSU its third general championship in four years. Aside from the Lady Spikers reclaiming their status as the gold standard in women’s indoor volleyball, the team also took its first beach volleyball title.

Four other teams reigned supreme: the Green and Lady Paddlers (table tennis), Lady Woodpushers (chess), and Green Batters (baseball). The Lady Booters could still make it to DLSU’s ring of champions when they tangle with UP on Thursday, May 5.

Animo La Salle!