Standing at almost the spot inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum where I witnessed Season 78 Finals MVP Kim Keanna Dy hit her patented right flank hit almost a year ago, yours truly was among the 20,860 fans inside the jam-packed mecca of Philippine sports who witnessed a thrilling 19-25, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10 championship-clinching win by the DLSU Lady Spikers.
Even when facing a two sets-to-one deficit at the start of the fourth frame, there was a calm but confident demeanor in the reigning and defending UAAP women’s volleyball champions. A reassuring stance backed by the promise of graduating team captain Kim Fajardo that Saturday, May 6, 2017, would indeed be her last game in the eight-member league.
Coming off a loss and with their season on the line, the Ateneo Lady Eagles rightfully took the first set by out-attacking La Salle 18-9. The ladies in blue went all-out but the Lady Spikers neither flinched nor blinked as they easily bounced back by taking 11 of the first 13 points in the following set.
Errors and aces dumbfounded the Katipunan-based squad newly minted Season 79 MVP Majoy Baron joined Fajardo’s service ace party and gave La Salle set point at 24-14. A signature KKD hit tied things up at one-set a piece and sent the green side of Araneta Coliseum into a frenzy.
For whatever reason: fatigue, complacency, or want for a bigger challenge, the La Salle six gave up the third set, 18-25, as Ateneo lorded over the block (3-1) and service ace (five of their total six to DLSU’s two) departments. Alas, it turned to be AdMU’s last stand. With the score tied at 11-all in the fourth set, La Salle went to a 14-7 rally as Season 79 Finals MVP Desiree Cheng combined with Aduke Ogunsanya, Tin Tiamson, and Kim Dy to force a deciding fifth set.
Playing in their first fifth-setter in this year’s tournament, the Lady Spikers were all business in the deciding frame as a 2-1 lead quickly turned into 6-1 after an Ateneo error and 10-4 after the last of KKD’s heart-crushing spike. Although the Lady Eagles were able to trim the lead to 10-8 and gave a semblance of a fight, it was clear that La Salle wanted the championship more than their counterparts.
Save for a rotation error and a Jhoana Maraguinot hit, the Lady Spikers scored five of the last seven points of UAAP Season 79 as Ateneo’s net defense was being demolished by Desiree and Tin to the fullest. Tiamson’s last hit gave DLSU a 13-9 lead while Majoy, to the cheers of “MVP! MVP!” by the Green and White gallery, pushed La Salle to championship point at 14-10.
After losing starters Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, and Cyd Demecillo, and veteran players Mika Esperanza and Carol Cerveza to graduation, the defending champions came into Season 79 full of questions and doubts. A shaky and inconsistent rotation of open hitters meant additional load on the shoulders of Aduke and Majoy (middle) and Kim Dy (opposite) to score for DLSU.
But as the season went on, Desiree and Tin’s play improved; providing not only a complete arsenal for skipper Kim Fajardo to work on offense but also helping the league’s best libero, Dawn Macandili, on digs and receptions at the back row. Their combined Game 2 production of 28 points, 19 of the team’s 36 total receptions, and 12 (Cheng) excellent digs showed a complete all-around game from both our starting open hitters.
It was also a fitting and deserving exit for the league’s premier setter, three-time best setter (Season 76, 78, and 79) and Season 79 best server Kim A. Fajardo who anchored the team through an 11-3 win-loss record in the elimination round and 3-0 in the Final Four and finals. That she finished with six points from four aces and two hits, aside from 43 excellent sets, gives credence to head coach Ramil de Jesus’ post-game statement that there will never be another Kim Fajardo.
The Season 79 championship was also the 10th in 19 UAAP seasons (all DLSU teams were suspended in Season 69) for RdJ, one of the most brilliant and tactical minds in collegiate volleyball. The recent DLSU Sports Hall of Fame inductee has also guided the team to 17 finals appearances and a 242-65 (78.83%) winning percentage in 20 years; a feat that is probably unheard of or will be matched in local sports.
Despite DLSU not getting the UAAP General Championship for the fourth time in five years, the Green Archers and Lady Spikers, two of the most popular and followed teams in the league, did win their respective tournaments’ first place trophies; an achievement that was last done almost two decades ago in 1999.
While we wait for the results of the DLSU-UST women’s football finals matchup, its time to close a great Season 79. The DLSU Lady Spikers personified the league’s theme this season: they dared to dream back-to-back titles, dared to give Kim Fajardo the dream exit she deserved, and for next year, will dare to dream, and achieve, three straight titles.
See you when the league welcomes Season 80 on September.
Animo La Salle!