Finals experience, “Magic Bunot” Luna give Lady Spikers 1-0 edge

There was one play, probably the longest rally in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament finals, that encapsulated everything about this ongoing La Salle-FEU championship matchup. Featuring booming hits, soft drop balls, and tremendous floor defense, one final block kill by third-year player Tin Tiamzon on Jerrili Malabanan finally stopped the long exchange and handed DLSU the precious point and the 11-6 lead.

The play showed tremendous fight from both sides in the 29-27, 25-21, 25-22, one hour and 33 minute-match but it was the two-time defending champions, capitalizing on their championship experience and the Great Taft Wall (11 total blocks), who drew first blood yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Despite the straight-sets scoreline, La Salle couldn’t quite shake off the Lady Tamaraws in the first set, even after leading by five points at multiple times (16-11, 23-18). The Taft-based squad even squandered three set-points when they up 24-21 and even faced set-point, 25-26, after a soft hit from FEU team captain Bernadette Pons. By the end of the set, the Tams 17 first set unforced errors finally caught to them as miscue upon miscue, coupled by Tiamzon’s last hit eventually handed the set to DLSU.

“During our eliminations, hirap na hirap kami sa FEU, ngayon siguro kung hindi namin nakuha yung first set, hindi magkakaganoon (straight-sets win) kasi alam naman natin na kahit lead(ing) ka ng five points hindi (malaking) score para sa FEU iyon ‘e, hindi numero iyon ‘e. Sa kanila basta’t gumalaw sila ng tama dirediretcho (sila), kahit malayo ka, hindi ka nakakasiguro,” explain La Salle mentor Ramil de Jesus

Even without leading by more than three points in the second period, La Salle was humming as they led 8-5 and 16-14 after the two technical timeouts. With starter and Season 79 Finals MVP Desiree Cheng apparently injured and producing just two total points, RdJ relied on reserve May Luna to pick-up the slack.

The third-year open spiker did just that, scoring on the left flank to give DLSU a 21-17 lead and again at 24-21 to get the Lady Spikers at set point. May’s efforts, a total of nine points built on seven attacks and two service aces, was enough to offset Cheng’s sub-par performance and gives FEU coach George Pascua another piece of the La Salle puzzle to think about for Game 2.

“Kailangang hindi ko (papabayaan) si coach… gusto ko na buo pa rin yung tiwala (niya) sa akin.” – May Luna

Aside from DLSU’s balanced attack that saw four players score eight or more points (Kim Kianna Dy with 10, Luna’s nine, and eight each from Majoy Baron and Tiamzon), another problem going against Pascua, the Lady Tamaraws’ first-year coach, is his team’s unfamiliarity in playing in these pressure packed moments that lead to 34 total errors; something his La Salle counterpart is quite used to.

“Siguro, kung mas kilala mo yung players mo, mas kaya mong magtiwala kahit sino pa yung ipasok kasi kilala mo. Alam mong may magdedeliver once na ipasok mo siya, kasi ganoon kataas yung kumpiyansa ko sa mga player na ginagamit ko,” added the 10-time UAAP champion coach.

Another plan that worked well for La Salle was limiting Pons to just nine points after the graduating FEU skipper led her team in scoring in both the first (21) and second (16) rounds against DLSU. The do-it-all FEU hitter finished in double digits in both excellent digs and receptions with 17 and 12, respectively, but needed the rest of teammates to do more.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Lady Spikers were all business as star libero Dawn Macandili churned out another great performance on the Araneta Taraflex with 24 digs and 13 receptions and second-year setter and first-time starter in a finals series Michelle Cobb stood toe-to-toe with FEU counterpart Kyle Negrito (15 vs. 17 excellent sets).

Don’t be surprised by an encore performance by Mayang Luna, the Davao del Norte native, in Game 2 on May 2, Wednesday that will also be played in Araneta Coliseum. “Kailangang hindi ko (papabayaan) si coach, na parang ‘pinagkatiwalan kita’ tapos hindi mo gagawin (deliver). Gusto ko na buo pa rin yung tiwala (niya) sa akin.”

Animo La Salle!