Greenstincts: Lady Spikers displayed bigger, stronger hearts in Game 1

More than 12 hours in (as of writing), and people are still buzzing about that crucial second set that not only tied Game 1 of the UAAP women’s volleyball finals at one set a piece, but also turned the tide and momentum in favor of the DLSU Lady Spikers on their way to a 21-25, 29-27, 25-22, 25-20 win. La Salle’s breakthrough win, after getting swept in the elimination round in twin four-setters, proves that it doesn’t matter how you start, what matters is how you finish the game.

After giving up the first set 21-25, the La Salle six faced and held off three set points, 23-24, 24-25, and 25-26, in the second frame with Season 78 Finals MVP Kim Dy combining with Desiree Cheng and Aduke Ogunsanya in the latter stages for a 4-1 run that finally broke not only the defense of the Ateneo Lady Eagles, but their spirits as well.

Despite out-spiking DLSU, 13-9, Ateneo committed an uncharacteristic 14 of their total 40 unforced errors in that pivotal second set, while the three blocks and the three service aces, all coming from team captain Kim Fajardo, did their best to put points on the board for La Salle as well as demoralize AdMU coach Tai Bundit and his wards.

Playing looser and with seemingly less pressure, it was hard to be 100% confident that the next two sets were already meant for the Lady Spikers but it was clear that the white flag was slowly but surely being raised by the Katipunan side of the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Lady Spikers led the third set in wire-to-wire fashion, with the Lady Eagles only being able to tie the set at the 12-12 point. A corner hit from sophomore Tin Tiamson and another ace from the KAFtain gave DLSU set point. Unlike in their first encounter this season where they wasted set points in the first two sets, La Salle started the third set of Game 1 strong and finished stronger as KKD came into the middle and defied an Ateneo triple block to score the final point for a two sets to one lead.

The fourth and final frame served not only as the game clincher but also as a message and warning for the Lady Eagles heading into Game 2 on Saturday, May 6 at the same venue. A pancake save by Fajardo helped La Salle get to a 13-12 lead, erasing a 15-18 deficit and turning it into a 25-20 win, and the whole team contributing through out that 10-2 run show how much the defending UAAP champions want the crown to stay in Taft Avenue.

Four players, led by the 15 points from Tiamzon, 14 from KKD, and 10 each from Fajardo and Cheng more than made up for the lack of block points (four) for the Lady Spikers. DLSU also held the attack points of the Lady Eagles effectively, limiting the Ateneo six to 27.3% (38/139), as the league’s premier libero, Dawn Macandili, was literally everywhere and finished with 28 excellent digs and 15 receptions.

The wounded Lady Eagles will come out of the gates strong in Game Two of this best-of-three title series, something that DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus and his staff should prepare for in the three days between matches. Tall, talented, skilled, and now armed with the mental and psychological edge, I really can’t help but believe Kim Fajardo when she affirmed in the post-game interview that Saturday would be her last UAAP game.

Animo La Salle!