Lady Spikers win 4th straight but look far from finished product

In a game of big leads, tactical ploys, and quick in-game adjustments, the DLSU Lady Spikers repeated over the FEU Lady Tamaraws 25-17, 21-25, 16-25, 25-20, 15-5 to sweep their two-game regular season series at the Filoil Flying V Arena.

Pushed to a precarious two sets to one deficit after a dominating first frame, La Salle went to work in the fourth set and were the first to take the leads at the 8-6 and 16-13 marks. Back-to-back hits by reserve Arriane Layug and Season 79 Finals MVP Desiree Cheng gave both team two sets apiece and extended the game to a deciding fifth set.

From then on, the championship poise and end-game killer’s instinct of the Lady Spikers were in full display. Racing to a quick 5-0 lead after a soft hit from Cheng, La Salle only gave up two attack points and a service ace, and committed only two unforced errors to a game FEU squad. On offense and defense at the net, DLSU got production from everyone as a hit from Kim Kianna Dy from the left flank ignited a 7-1 rally that turned a slim 5-3 slim to a 13-4 scoreline.

It was that type of aggressiveness and intensity that the 10-time UAAP champions displayed similarly in the first set where they could do no wrong to open the game with a 17-4 lead. Despite not recording a block kill, registering 15 attack points and committing only three unforced errors allowed the Lady Spikers to deliver the first punch.

Getting outhit, out-blocked, and left searching for answers from FEU tactician George Pascua’s adjustments and counterpunch in the second and third sets, the Taft-based squad was in disarray and even had head coach Ramil de Jesus saying to his players: “Wala tayong ginagawang tama. Lahat ng ginagawa natin mali.”

The team’s combined attack output (16, nine in the 2nd and seven in the 3rd) in those two sets was only one more than the 15 they put up in the first set. Defense at the net was also absent for the league’s second best blocking team, putting up only three block kills before the fourth set compared to FEU’s seven.

KKD bucked a slight ankle sprain scare early in the game to pace the team with 18 points, the same output as follow graduating player Majoy Baron. Cheng once again posted an all-around performance, scoring 10 points and recording 16 excellent digs and 10 excellent receptions.

One foot in the Final Four
The tough five-set win couple with the team’s straight-set 25-15, 25-19, 25-19 victory over the UP Lady Maroons last Wednesday not only ensured that the Lady Spikers remain atop the standings at 8-2 but also clinch a playoff spot for a seat in the Final Four.

However great La Salle looks in the win-loss records, consistency on both offense and net defense remain a concern for the team looking to achieve its third three-peat and 11th UAAP women’s volleyball title overall. Focus and effecting playmaking from second-year setter Michelle Cobb, while already improved from the first round, also needs to be sharper heading into the playoffs.

Always be ready when your number is called
Compared to other schools, the Lady Spikers do not employ the strategy of having a “service specialist” nor does de Jesus utilize his complete roster, instead relying heavily on the La Salle first fix, libero Dawn Macandili, and a few substitute players on selected sets/moments.

Reserve players standing at the sideline may not see much floor time compared to the team’s veteran players but it doesn’t mean that they less prepared, skilled, or talented. Moments like the game against FEU where seldom-used middle blocker Norielle Ipac was inserted in the third set for starter Aduke Ogunsanya, produced four points, and played the rest of the way reflects as much on the player preparedness as well as trust from the coaching staff.

With the way the two-time defending champions train, reportedly twice a day, Ipac and the rest of RdJ’s shock troopers are being sharpened and pushed as much as Season 79 MVP Majoy Baron and the rest of the starters. While her insertion may be a surprise to most casual fans, her impact on the game, being a third-year player, really should not have come have a shock.

And with three key players set to graduate this season, it’s about time replacements are given valuable burn time and UAAP experience to ensure that the Lady Spikers dynasty remain sustainable, dominant, and long-lasting.

La Salle next faces league doormat UE Lady Warriors (2-7) 4PM on March 24 at the Filoil Flying V Arena. A match that hopefully the Lady Spikers do not overlook and avoid a repeat of their paltry showing in the first round (25-18, 25-17, 25-20).

Animo La Salle!