As the league ushers in the Lenten break, yesterday’s 25-12, 21-25, 20-25, 19-25 loss to the Ateneo Lady Eagles felt like a crucifixion of the defending champions who were swept by the Tai Bundit-led squad in similar fashion this Season 79. It was a no-bearing match on paper, but try telling that to an unconsolable Kim Dy, a sobbing Dawn Macandili, and a scathing Kim Fajardo post-game.
On the surface, sets two to four looked eerily similar as the first round’s 24-26, 24-26, 25-21, 17-25 setback as the Lady Spikers started every set strong but faded in the closing moments of each frame. Sans the first set when everything seemed to go right for La Salle, the team would hit a proverbial wall right around the 20-point mark of the succeeding sets; not able to find that fifth gear to propel themselves against their Katipunan counterparts.
Set two, with DLSU trailing by one point, 19-20, ended with the Lady Eagles spiking and serving their way to a 5-1 run that the La Salle frontline and Macandili, try as the league’s premier libero might, could not stop. The third set, with La Salle still trailing by a single digit, 21-22, ended with Ateneo scoring the last four points as two of the Lady Spikers’ nine total set errors, a net touch and an Arianne Layug out of bounds hit, occurred at the worst time.
Two questionable, with the replays showing otherwise, calls by the referees early in the fourth set took the wind out of the Lady Spikers’ sails. Leading 8-5, an uncalled check ball from a hit from Desiree Cheng and an incorrect whistle for a within-the-lines hit turned the momentum against the nine-time UAAP champions who couldn’t recover mentally from the two debacle.
The La Salle six and head coach Ramil de Jesus still fought hard to try to keep in step in the final set, but their counterparts, despite resting star hitter Jo Maraguinot, had more up their sleeves yesterday afternoon. Rookie spiker and DLSZ alumnae Jules Samonte, who finished with 10 points and went 9/17 on attacks, was Bundit’s magic “hugot” that no one from Taft was prepared for.
DLSU had their way on offense, outscoring Ateneo 47-37 on spiking but were not their usual selves on defense, tallying only five blocks against AdMU’s four. The unforced errors, nine in set two, 11 in the third, 10 in the fourth, and 36 total against only 24 for the Lady Eagles, were the difference between going into the Final Four as the top seed and the team settling for the number two spot.
Coach Ramil, either by feel or tactical reasons, also did not go to his deep bench until it was too late in the game. Sophomore May Luna, who didn’t mind the bright lights and loud noises during the first round encounter and produced eight points, was only fielded for less than five minutes. The team desperately needed a spark in the final frame, someone akin to lefty Carol Cerveza last year, to dumbfound and confuse their opponents.
The Lady Eagles had that in the fearless Samonte while the Lady Spikers’ Final Four opponents, the UST Lady Tigress, have hefty but hard-hitting Dimdim Pacres to turn the tide in their team’s favor.
A victory would have given DLSU a sweep of the second round and a distinction of beating all seven other UAAP teams. Instead, the loss halted La Salle’s six-game winning momentum and will give the Lady Spikers nightmares and what-ifs for the next two weeks.
It’s hard to think ahead of the scheduled April 22 Final Four game against UST at the Smart Araneta Coliseum but the team should improve, close out their sets stronger, and minimize unforced mistakes if they get a third match-up against the Lady Eagles.
For all the tears flowing from the players faces yesterday and team captain Kim Fajardo’s quiet but vengeful demeanor, the Lasallian community can only hope that the girls can channel their sadness, anger, and regret into loaded serves, killer spikes, and less mistakes come playoff time.
Animo La Salle!