Season 78 Summary: 11-3; finished second in the elimination round; defeated the FEU Lady Tamaraws in the Final Four; defeated the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the Finals in three games to win the school’s 9th women’s volleyball title;

Additions: Michelle Cobb, Aduke Ogunsanya, Arriane Layug, Gyra Barroga, Justine Tiu, Desiree Cheng (returns from injury)

Departures: Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo, Mika Esperanza, Carol Cerveza, Christine Soyud (Moved to Adamson)

Holdovers: Mary Joy Baron, Kim Dy, Kim Fajardo, Dawn Macandili, Norielle Ipac, May Luna, Carmel June Saga, Ernestine Tiamzon

Background

A about a decade ago, it was Maureen Penetrante, Desiree Hernandez, Sharmaine Penano, and Relea Saet who bannered the DLSU Lady Spikers and towed them to multiple championships. Three of them, in fact.

Years later and they were replaced by the likes of Manilla Santos, Jacqueline Alarca, Stephanie Mercado, and Cha Cruz. And while they were still playing and after they had graduated, names like Abigail Marano, Melissa Gohing, Michelle Gumabao, Mika Reyes, and Ara Galang soon stepped up and also helped La Salle win titles, with this group completing another three-peat.

What these players had in common was that they won multiple championships for the Lady Spikers. Another thing that they have in common is that even after they had played their final games for the Green-and-White, the team was still able to successfully remain as a title contender and even defend their crown.

That doesn’t mean that these players can be easily replaced, as they were some of the best volleybelles to ever play for the Lady Spikers. Rather, it’s a testament to the success and continuity of the program that was installed by head coach Ramil De Jesus and the rest of the coaching staff installed when he took over the team.

The team has always had a ‘next man up’ (or in this case, ‘next woman up’) mentality, and the remaining Lady Spikers will certainly be tested as the squad heads into Season 79 having lost Reyes, Galang, Cyd Cemecillo, Carol Cerveza, Mika Esperanza, and Christine Soyud. The good news is that if there’s a team that’s equipped to deal with the loss of such talented players, it’s the Lady Spikers.

Season 78 was seen as a final chance for the Lady Spikers’ veterans to win the volleyball title. But while their imprint can be seen all over their championship win, the emergence of their young players could not be denied. Mary Joy Baron realised her potential and emerged as the league’s Best Blocker. Dawn Macandili ensured that the team’s floor defense remained among the league’s best, if not the best. And who can forget Kim Dy’s star-making performance in the Finals against the Lady Eagles that earned her the Finals MVP plum?

The rise of the team’s young players will certainly help soften the blow of the loss of last year’s veterans. However, the Lady Spikers’ most important holdover is still two-time Best Setter Kim Fajardo, who announced late last year that she would play in her final year for La Salle. Fajardo would be the steadying presence that the young players need, like an extension of De Jesus on the floor.

Outlook

If the Lady Spikers want to retain their title, however, they will have to fend off challenges from at least five schools which are legitimate contenders to make it to the Final Four and beyond.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles remain the biggest obstacle for La Salle quest for the University’s 10th volleyball title, but they’re not the only ones capable of pulling the rug from under the Lady Spikers. The FEU Lady Tamaraws and UP Lady Maroons, the other two teams that comprised the Final Four cast last season, return with line-ups that are almost intact from last season.

Only this time, they’ve had time to prepare and now have playoff experience. The NU Lady Bulldogs and the UST Tigresses may not have made the postseason last year, but they have likewise retooled in the offseason and are ready to stake their claim to the volleyball title.

The road to a repeat will be filled with challenges. Fajardo, Dy, Baron, and Macandili will need to replicate their stellar performances last season for the Lady Spikers to return to the Promised Land. But equally important is the production of their younger players to complement and provide help to their veterans, like Tiamzon, Luna, Ipac, and even some of their rookies like Ogunsanya and Barroga.

But this has always been one of the joys of watching the Lady Spikers and collegiate sports in general: To see which young player steps up and elevates their game to help their team and fill the void left by a graduating player. To witness a quiet and unassuming player come out of their shell to emerge as a star and a leader. La Salle is no stranger to this situation, having experienced it several times before. Next woman up.

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