Much like Game One of the finals of the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament, the Lady Spikers weathered a first set storm and needed to work and persevere just a little longer than the FEU Lady Tamaraws to sweep the latter 26-24, 25-20, 26-24 and earn the school it’s 11th championship and third three-peat.
Down 0-1 in the best of three series, FEU was determined and fired up by the opening whistle, posting leads of 8-5 and 16-12 by being the more aggressive team on both offense and defense. Sensing that the Lady Tams’ lead was getting out of hand, head coach Ramil de Jesus quickly subbed in Game 1 hero May Luna in favor of Season 80 Best Server Desiree Cheng and was instantly rewarded with three consecutive points.
Still, La Salle was trailing 18-20 after a Luna hit and a few plays later, FEU found itself at set point, 24-21. Rising up to the challenge and the moment, graduating opposite hitter Kim Kianna Dy was like a woman possessed; scoring four of the team’s last five points on a variety of shots from the left, middle, and right flanks, giving La Salle the set and momentum heading into the second period.
For the next two and a half sets, the then two-time and now three-time defending champions seemed to attack, defend, and serve just a little harder and better than their Morayta counterparts. Sensing blood and going for the kill, DLSU never trailed in the second set and were leading comfortably by the second technical timeout of the third period, 16-11.
Then things got interesting for both squads.
“Yung last part ng third set akala nga namin OK na. FEU (was) down na siguro ng four points. Sabi ko nga ‘wag muna tayong mag-celebrate’ kasi gawa ng hindi pa tapos yung laban. Yung FEU hindi pa totally naggi-give-up.”
What RdJ was referring to was when the scoreline read 21-17 and 22-18 in favor of La Salle and the Taft-based squad and the thousands in the Green and White gallery were already anticipating the moment when confetti would blow from a cannon and fall on top of them.
Even when the Lady Spikers reached their first championship point at 24-21, a resilient FEU squad made sure to extend the set and everyone’s season just a little longer; to make the latest coronation of collegiate volleyball’s reigning queens just a littler later.
An off-the-block ht from Jerri Malabanan tied the score at 24-all, but that proved to be the Lady Tams’ last hurrah as a push shot from the left side by KKD and a booming kill from third-year hitter Tin Tiamzon gave DLSU its 11th consecutive win and the Season 80 trophy.
“Basta ako, ‘pag dumating yung season, kailangan mong magprepare. So kung mayroong chance na matapos yung ganitong finals, hindi na namin papalampasin yung chance na hindi paghandaan. So pag dumating yung ganitong situation, hindi na namin bibitawan tagala. Sabi ko, hindi dapat ito umabot ng Game Three,” added the dimpled DLSU mentor.
While Dy, Tiamzon and team captain Majoy Baron scored in double figures with 19 and 10 each, respectively, it was the anchor of DLSU’s back row Dawn Macandili who captured the finals MVP on her last playing year. Asia’s finest defensive ace had another impressive outing with 21 excellent digs and eight excellent receptions but was clearly surprised when her name was called in the post-game ceremony.
Graceful exit: ‘Masipag’, ‘Athletic’, ‘Tangkad’
Finally having the time to breath, letting the whole season and champion round sink in, and reminiscing what his team, and especially what he and his three graduating seniors went through in the past five-six years, a jovial RdJ instantly said: “Tuwang-tuwa ako na wala na kayong tatlo. Hindi joke lang.”
“Very close sa akin yung dalawa (Dy and Macandili) kasi mahaba yung (period) na nagsama kami, since noong high school,” added the now 11-time champion coach.
With de Jesus’ tutelage and skills development program, the three entered Season 76 as raw, unpolished diamonds and left their UAAP seniors careers with not only their third title in five years but also individual accolades, none much bigger than the Season 79 MVP for Baron and Finals MVPs for Dy (78) and Macandili (80).
Still on a playful note, RdJ explained: “Sa totoo lang, noong una ko silang nakita height lang nakita ko. Ito (Macandili) hindi ko pinapansin. Alam kong sasakit ang ulo ko. Well, hindi naman sa attitude, sasakit yung ulo sa pagtuturo. Bihira kasi yung dumadating sa akin na player na very talented. Mga ito hard worker mga ito kaya umangat yung level nila.”
Like a strict, disciplinarian father than preaches tough love, is short on praises, and can be quick on constructive criticism on his own players, coach Ramil has seen the three grow up from prospects to UAAP stars and possibly, the future of the Philippine national team.
“Noong dumating si Dawn, talagang masipag lang. Ito naman si Kianna, athletic kasi noong dumating. Si Joy tangkad lang talaga, walang nang iba. Very thankful ako kasi na-reach nila ngayon (championship goal) and siguro isa na sila sa maituturing na (top players) sa volleyball kasi kahit siguro ma-select sila para sa national team or sa anumang team sila mapunta, talagang deserve nila iyon.”
Animo La Salle!