A two-week break. An two-game elimination round sweep. Their core with little to no playoff experience, let alone championship know-how. And playing a DLSU Lady Spikers team that was coming off a loss during the the defending champions’ last game of the eliminations.
The odds were definitely stacked against the third seed UST Lady Tigress. Add the Lady Spikers’ twice-to-beat advantage to that equation and it was good to see La Salle send their Espanya counterparts to early summer vacations with a methodical and dominating 25-14, 25-20, 24-26, 25-13 win.
The win not only gave the Green and White squad a ninth straight ticket to the women’s volleyball finals but also avoided a repeat of last year’s Final Four match-up against the FEU Lady Tamaraws where the latter forced a deciding second game in their No. 2 versus No. 3 pairing.
The victory and looseness of the players during the pre-game warm-ups were complete contrasts to the last time I saw the Lady Spikers; with tears flowing from their eyes and frustration painted on their faces after losing a four-setter to the Ateneo Lady Eagles.
Defending well at the net, with a combined 12 blocks, and committing only eight unforced errors allowed DLSU to dictate the first two sets of the game. Two signature serves from Desiree Cheng closed out the first frame, 25-14, while middle hitter Majoy Baron’s unstoppable running hit gave the Lady Spikers the two sets to none lead, 25-20.
La Salle was able to shake-off another questionable, if not worse, reversed call just after the second technical timeout of the second set. Dawn Macandili’s pancake save was initially called good by one referee only to be overruled by the second one, much to the chagrin of the Green and White gallery and contrary to what the venue replays were showing.
Smarting from previous games where the whistles did not go their way, the La Salle six shook off that key reversal that would have stretched their lead to 17-12 and instead went 16-13. DLSU was also helped in the last few plays of the second set when UST committed three straight cough ups to put La Salle at set point.
Finding themselves on the back foot early in the third frame at 4-8, DLSU mounted a comeback at the second official break to trail only by a single point, 15-16. Former UST team captain EJ Laure provided a spark to her team after coming back from injuring her ankle early in the third. The UST open hitter helped give the Lady Tigresses get to set point at 21-24 but sophomore Tin Tiamson delivered on three straight hits to extend the set.
UST’s haymaker, one where team captain Sisi Rondina closed out the third frame with a booming spike, proved to be the host of UAAP Season 79’s last hoorah as the Lady Spikers would race to a 11-1 lead in the fourth and never looked back.
Take That for Data
Aside from dominating the net with a 17-8 edge in block points, DLSU also lorded it over in the service department highlighted by team captain Kim Fajardo’s three-ace barrage to give La Salle that double-digit edge in the last frame and essentially defang and deflate UST.
As anti-climactic as the fourth quarter was compared to the playoff intensity of the previous one, the Lady Spikers are now off to their ninth straight finals and will have another week to prepare and recuperate; a bonus given the injury updates that head coach Ramil de Jesus revealed post-game: Kim Dy (hamstring) and Desiree (hyperextended knee).
The best-of-three series, against either FEU or Ateneo, will start on April 29, Saturday, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Animo La Salle!