The Lady Spikers dropped game 1 of the best-of-three finals series against UST today in 4 sets – 26-24, 23-25, 16-25, and 21-25. The team lapsed into uncharacteristic errors against a tall and experienced UST team, and they now must take the second game on Saturday, February 27 if they want to retain the championship they won last year at the expense of FEU.
Setter Kaye Martinez was used sparingly because of a shoulder injury she suffered during the final 4 match against Adamson over the weekend, and this told on the fluidity of the Lady Spikers’ offense as backup setter Carmel Garbin wasn’t as precise in setting up our attackers. The variety in attack was also not as sharp, allowing the UST defense to set up their defense against our individual attackers.
Maybe it was the championship pressure, but the team lost two points when trailing at 19-21 in the 4th set because the ball dropped between two players, either of whom could have easily retrieved the ball. This kind of miscue occurred a few times during the match, robbing the team of the opportunity to score and giving UST some breathing room.
Although tightly marked, skipper Stephanie Mercado heroically led the Lady Spiker offensive by varying her offensive thrusts, mixing her power smashes with delicate dink shots. Cha Cruz also contributed with her accurate placements into gaps in the back row, and Jacq Alarca had her usual quick attacks in the middle interspersed with running spikes along the sides.
UST was able to circumvent the league-best net defenses of our team by varying the attacks between the middle and the open spikers. The return from illness of UST libero Curato also helped the UST floor defense, while the taller UST frontline managed to blunt our usually effective net attacks by partially blocking or slowing the spikes of the Lady Spikers. At the same time, to avoid our blockers, UST moved their sets a little farther than usual from the net, and this paid off as Tabaquero and Maizo were able to power their spikes through gaps in the blocking.
In an effort to shake up the game, Coach Ramil fielded in Garbin, Michelle Gumabao, and Camille Cerveza at different points in the match, spelling Joanne Siy, Abi Marano, and the injured Kaye Martinez for short stretches. At least eight unforced errors from our players in each of the last three sets helped UST pull off the win, as they gifted UST with easy points that derailed any chances for a momentum swing in our favor. Shaky service reception also played a role in reducing the effectiveness of the Lady Spiker attacks. Weak reception or poor passes to the setter for the second touch robbed prevented Garbin and Martinez from effectively setting up our attackers for a clean kill.
Today we saw a different Lady Spikers team. It was quite obvious in their body language that they are somewhat intimidated by UST. Probably the stigma of their Feb 14 loss still haunts them. If they can keep their nerves and effectively execute the plays that they have been practicing all season, there is no reason why they cannot even up the series on Saturday and force a deciding game on Wednesday, March 3.
In a show of unity, the players came into the game with green streaks in their hair and wore an armband to remember Bro. Ceci. This unity has served them well all season long, and their closeness will help them surmount the 1-game deficit on the way to retaining their title.