Greenstincts: No championship hangover for the Lady Spikers

In a league that is slowly getting more competitive and the parity becoming closer and closer by the season, it is refreshing to see that the De La Salle Lady Spikers are showing no signs of championship hangover and are still one of the league leaders two games into the UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball tournament.

It’s a far different script from what the team opened with last year: reeling from setbacks in the past two finals against the Ateneo Lady Eagles and welcoming back former captain Ara Galang from knee injury. Last year’s team, a hungry, proud, and veteran-laden squad took every ounce skill together with touches of swag and confidence to finally end Ateneo’s mini-dynasty.

The Lady Spikers enter 2017 with as much answers and facts as there are questions with regards to defending their UAAP title. At least five other teams pose as serious threats to DLSU’s path to back-to-back trophies, each team gaining maturity and experience through the years by training abroad and joining other high-level leagues.

Despite losing five seniors to graduation, and still finding a consistent fighting form, the Lady Spikers have so far performed well in their first two assignments; disposing their Final Four opponent last year, the FEU Lady Tamaraws, 29-27, 25-22, 25-23 last February 5 and the dangerous UST Tigresses yesterday, 25-23, 16-25, 25-14, 25-22.

Facing an almost-intact squad in the Lady Tamaraws, La Salle was methodical and on-form in the straight-sets win; as far cry from up-and-down performance in the four-set victory against UST. Despite not registering any blocks, the Lady Spikers’ five service aces coupled with UST’s seven errors enabled the former to draw first blood, 25-23.

The second set can serve as a blueprint that other teams can use to defeat the reigning UAAP champs. Scoring only four attack points, the rest of the team’s output came courtesy of the the Tigresses’ unforced errors. DLSU’s guns became silent as UST grabbed the lead during the two technical timeouts, 8-6 and 16-12, before romping off to tie the game at one set apiece.

Flashing their true championship form and displaying the swagger that is the envy of most teams, the Lady Spikers turned the third set into a clinic. Racing to 8-3 and 16-9 leads, Season 78 finals MVP Kim Dy sealed the set with one of her game-high five blocks to gave DLSU a 2-1 set lead.

The start of the fourth set almost looked like the previous one, but the UST Tigresses were determined to change the outcome and did not follow the script. Down 8-1 and 16-4, the España-based squad trimmed the lead and inched closer to the Lady Spikers at 20-22. DLSU would have none of it as a Kim Dy spike off a great combination play, UST service error, and a kill from the returning Desiree Cheng at match point gave La Salle the set and win number two.

Kim Dy paced the scoring with 16 points, 11 coming from attacks and five from blocks. Though she scored most of her points in the latter stages of the match, KKD needs to assert her will and presence throughout the game. She doesn’t have to have a set always called for her as Kim can also do damage on the defensive end.

Sophomore Tin Tiamzon is also making people notice of her game by finishing with 14 points, nine coming from attacks, two blocks, and three service aces. Team captain Kim Fajardo conducted another masterpiece, out-setting the entire UST squad by her lonesome, 39-38, while also contributing eight points of her own.

Having an immaculate win-loss record in a week’s time will not be a guarantee especially with match-ups against the ever-improving UP Lady Maroons on February 15 and Jaja Santiago-led NU Lady Bulldogs on February 19. Even head coach Ramil de Jesus is adamant that while the ingredients for success is already in the team, there are a lot of work, improvement, and tinkering to do before we can call this batch of Lady Spikers a finished product.

The Green and White gallery better sit back and relax at home or in the venues, because this title defense season is going to be a great ride.

Animo La Salle!