The Lady Spikers emerged from the dug-out wearing the same warm-up shirts. Emblazoned on the backs of the shirts is the same surname and jersey number, as if they were all the same person and belonged to the same family.
That jersey number was 8. That surname was Galang.
Ara Galang made her way to the bench with the team, moving gingerly using crutches, her left leg placed in a brace. During time-outs, she encouraged her teammates and even gave out instructions that even Head Coach Ramil De Jesus paid attention to.
It’s been said that their team captain’s devastating injury can either break or serve as a rallying point for these Lady Spikers, and for a time, it did serve to inspire them. They stood toe-to-toe against an Ateneo Lady Eagles team that had not lost in the UAAP in more than a year. Whenever the Lady Eagles threatened to pulled away, they would mount rallies of their own to make it a contest.
Cyd Demecillo had her moments. So did Christine Soyud, Mary Joy Baron, and Mika Reyes. The points were distributed more evenly between these players unlike in La Salle’s previous matches. The problem was those points weren’t enough. And every time they closed the gap, the Lady Eagles knew what to do, and did not show any signs of rust even after a 20-day break from their last match.
Alyssa Valdez unleashed nine points in the first set, eleven in the second, before finishing with a game-high 25 points as the thrice-to-beat Lady Eagles defeated the Lady Spikers, 25-18, 25-19, 25-19, in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 77 Women’s Volleyball Finals earlier today at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
With the loss, the Lady Spikers will have to win against the Lady Eagles three consecutive times to win the volleyball title and avoid finishing as runners-up for the second year in a row after winning three straight titles from 2011-2013.
It was the first time for the Lady Spikers to play without Galang, who injured her knee during the last game of the stepladder semifinals against the NU Lady Bulldogs. The Lady Spikers won that match to barge into the finals against the Lady Eagles, but lost Galang for the season, who is their top scorer, averaging a little over 17 points per game. She also ranks among the best in digging and receiving in the league.
But the loss of their leader didn’t show at first. Demecillo, Baron, and Reyes all made their presence felt early for the Lady Spikers, as they held an early lead against Ateneo, 8-7. But after the first technical time-out, Valdez, Amy Ahomiro, and rookie Bea De Leon asserted their might as the Lady Eagles wrested the lead, which grew to as large as seven, 19-12, after a Valdez hit from the back row, and La Salle could get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
La Salle again led during the early stages of the second set, 5-3, after a service error by Valdez. But points by De Leon and Michelle Morente again allowed the Lady Eagles to take control. The teams traded points until Valdez, Morente, De Leon scored four straight points for the Lady Eagles as they took a 16-11 advantage into the second technical timeout.
A couple of errors by the Lady Eagles, along with a score by Demecillo, allowed La Salle to come to within 17-20, but Ahomiro, De Leon, and Valdez again scored for the Lady Eagles as they pocketed the second set, 25-19.
The third set featured a stalemate by the two teams early on, until Morente, Valdez, and Ella De Jesus scored three points for the Lady Eagles to give them a 9-5 edge. La Salle uncorked a 4-0 run with Soyud scoring two of the four points to tie the score, but De Jesus and Ahomiro again scored for the Lady Eagles, and errors by the Lady Spikers allowed Ateneo to pad their lead, which reached as high as four, 19-15. Kim Fajardo and Baron again scored to slice that lead in half, but Valdez and Jia Morado replied for the Lady Eagles, with a Valdez off-speed hit that eluded two blockers ending the match.
Demecillo led the Lady Spikers with ten markers, but was the only La Salle players who finished in double-figures. Soyud added eight and Baron finished with seven, but the rest of the Lady Spikers only scored a combined ten, with Reyes and Fajardo ending up with four and three, respectively.
Aside from Valdez’s 25 points, Morente added eight, Ahomiro finished with seven, and De Leon winded up with six for the Lady Eagles.
Both teams ended up with similar numbers, but Ateneo’s 44-29 advantage in attack points spelled the difference between the two squads.
Late in the third set, injury again reared its ugly head as Camille Cruz landed awkwardly as she went up for a spike. She was assisted off the court and did not return to the match. She later left the Araneta Coliseum on crutches, and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of her injury.
The Battle for Survival: The Lady Spikers begin their steep climb to win the UAAP title this Saturday, 3:30 PM at the Mall of Asia Arena. They need to defeat the Lady Eagles three times to win the volleyball crown.