The Battle of the Rivals: The Lady Eagles vs. The Lady Spikers could have gone to a seventh or ninth set and the crowd really would not have mind. Treated to a spectacular five-setter, the fans of both schools and the scholarship foundations of both La Salle and Ateneo were the real winners in last night’s 17-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13 Lady Eagles win at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite blowing a two sets-to-none lead in the exhibition/charity game presented by Rebisco, Green and White nostalgia can be seen in a lot of forms: Stephanie “Paneng” Mercado floating in the air and stinging balls like a bee; Michelle Gumabao and Aby Maraño oozing with swagger; Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, and Kim Fajardo contributing solid games; and “Ms. Everything” Cha Cruz and “The Ninja” Melissa Gohing still living up to their monickers.
Everything was clicking and humming well after the La Salle six took the first two sets with ease. One a cappella intermission by the group PhiSix in between the 2nd and 3rd sets later, and the team’s momentum and smooth flowing offense seemed to disappear. Coach Ramil de Jesus’ wards last led 17-13 in the third frame and trailed the entire fourth set as the two-time UAAP champion Lady Eagles forced a deciding fifth set.
Tied at 11-all, the Katipunan-based squad leaned on the brilliance of their all-time great Alyssa Valdez (game-high 36 points) and benefited from two unforced errors by Galang and setter Chie Saet to complete their comeback.
La Salle’s balanced attack, a trademark of RDJ-coached teams throughout 20 UAAP seasons, was evident as four players finished in double figures led by Aby (16 points, three from blocks and three service aces), Ara (16), Paneng (13), and Mika (11). Maraño, the two-time UAAP MVP, was later awarded as the Player of the Game for La Salle.
Despite having a 10-time UAAP champion coach on their bench, not to mention La Salle legend Manilla Santos on the coaching staff, it seemed from the outside that RDJ did less coaching and instead, trusted his players on what sets to call and plays to execute. Having two former UAAP Best Setters – Fajardo (76, 78-79) and Saet (67-68) and a number of former team captains on the roster certainly made coaching the game a little less stressful for coach Ramil.
Based on the thousands in attendance and the interest on social media for score updates and results, making this event an annual spectacle wouldn’t be surprising at all. The players may have traded their green and blue jerseys for the local commercial leagues but as team captain Cha Cruz said in a taped interview: “Once a Lady Spiker, always a Lady Spiker.”
Animo La Salle!