Lady Spikers tame NU Lady Bulldogs, enter 10th straight finals

Mirroring the second round match-up this Season 80, the DLSU Lady Spikers swept the NU Lady Bulldogs in straight sets, 27-25, 25-22, 25-11 in the Final Four of the women’s volleyball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.

La Salle needed to weather the storm and hold unto their belief just a little longer in the first set after facing a 7-12 deficit and even giving NU the first set point at 23-24 after a hit from the Lady Bulldogs’ Jaja Santiago. Aside from playing better in the crucial points of the set and uncorking a 4-1 rally, all the Lady Spikers did was to trust their system and each other to slowly take all the momentum away from NU and squash whatever confidence was left in the fourth seed team.

Remember that this is the same NU squad topped the first round of eliminations at 6-1, including a five-set win over the Lady Spikers, that spiralled in their next seven games to win just once for a 7-7 record heading into the playoffs.

Determined to exit the UAAP with her third title in five years, Season 78 Finals MVP Kim Kianna Dy’s free-ball in the second set gave DLSU at slim 16-14 lead at the second technical timeout while another hit later from the opposite spiker gave La Salle a 23-19 lead which the team held onto and nursed until the end.

With the 13-3 and 18-8 scorelines at several periods in the third set, the Lady Spikers’ entry into their 10th straight UAAP finals became a mere formality for the 8,100 fans who were in attendance.

The stat sheet showed a complete dominance by the Taft-based squad as the two-time defending champions out-attacked (42-29), out-served (11-2), out-digged (45-42), out-received (28-23), and out-set (27-17) their NU counterparts. Despite losing the battle of the kill blocks (6-8) and committing one more error than the Lady Bulldogs, 19-18, the timing and quality of La Salle’s points separated them from the Babes Castillo-coached squad.

Third-year player Tin Tiamzon’s block on the 6’5” Santiago to end the second set not only gave DLSU a commanding two sets-to-none lead but also deflated the morale and fight of NU. Looming crowd favorite Norielle Ipac may have only scored two points, but her attack and block points were the final two that sealed La Salle’s entry into the champion round against the FEU Lady Tamaraws.

10-time UAAP champion coach Ramil de Jesus praised his wards and gave them all the credit: “Kung ano man ang narating ng team ngayon dahil na rin sa players kasi gusto nila iyon. Mag-bounce back (from two first round loses), gusto nila iyon. Nadevelop na rin yung character, yung maturity dumating sa mga player, although may times na nagsa-struggle yung team pero eventually na-overcome nila iyon.”

The best-of-three finals series, which starts on April 28 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum promise to be a slam-bang affair if the results of the two elimination round games are used as gauges.

“Alam naman natin na first round, second round, both five sets yung inabot namin ng FEU, so itong darating na finals exciting. Kung sino ang mas may gusto, or sino yung mas may puso sa game, iyon siguro ang suswertihin,” added RdJ.

The team will look to lean on their extensive championship experience to repeat the 25-22, 25-17, 24-26, 23-25, 15-7 and 25-17, 21-25, 16-25, 25-20, 15-5 victories this Season 80. Led by crack open hitter Bernadette Pons, FEU is also brimming with confidence after securing the second seed and disposing the Ateneo Lady Eagles last Saturday.

Animo La Salle!