For half of the twenty thousand or so who watched yesterday’s game live, the MoA Arena felt like the unhappiest place on earth. The Lady Spikers had all the chances not just to win a precious set, but a critical game to extend their Season 77 as well.
Never mind if the team was down to just twelve players, a volleyball game only needs six players on the court to begin with. In the end, missed chances and opportunities summed up the year’s campaign for the still eight-time UAAP volleyball champs.
In my mind, the first set was the best opportunity that La Salle had to steal a set and gain much needed confidence and momentum. The score was tight, 22-23 after a Eli Soyud kill but the Lady Eagles were able to score the last two points of the set. Unlike the first game where the Lady Spikers failed to crack the twenty-point barrier, the team’s better performance was still not good enough the beat the best that the Katipunan squad can muster.
Missing team captain Ara Galang for the second straight game, La Salle not only missed the offensive firepower of the former MVP but also her presence on floor defense as well. DLSU was not only out-spiked to the tune of 26-45 but also lost to the battle of service aces, 5-11. Coupled with the anemic offense were shaky attempts by the back row at receiving and digging the ball resulting in poor first balls and over-receptions.
With sophomore Mary Joy Baron tallying a game-high nine points, not one Lady Spiker finished in double figures in scoring as expected team leaders Mika Reyes and Cyd Demecillo could only produce eight and five points respectively.
Another glaring stat against La Salle was the ineffectiveness of their attack; for the second straight game the team was held to a less than 30% success rate (combined 55/192 for the series) on offense while allowing the Lady Eagles to have a more efficient production (89/222, 40%) when the ball is on their side. For seemingly the nth time, the La Salle wrists lacked that needed snap to effectively kill the rally; turning what should have been easy points for the team into wasted chances.
Looking forward, the future begins here
Since losing the title to La Salle in Season 75, Ateneo has had DLSU’s number from two seasons already. We swept them at the elimination rounds last year but the Lady Eagles were able to overcome the Lady Spikers’ thrice-to-beat advantage during the finals. Now, not only did Ateneo achieve its back-to-back quest, but did so via a rare and historic 16-0 sweep of the entire season.
With absolutely no one leaving the current roster of DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus after this season, fans and supporters can be confident that the team can still a contender for Season 78 crown. But whether the current system and setup can stop Ateneo’s 3-peat mission remains a big mystery.
The team obviously need to be better to be able to match with the Lady Eagles not only on a physically level but more on the mental and psychological side of the game. How having a coach in the person Tai Bundit, with a limited grasp of the English language, take a once underachieving team to the promise land in two consecutive years does speak volumes that something must be changed in the La Salle camp.
Rookie Eli Soyud and sophomores Baron, Justine Tiu and even Desiree Cheng are developing nicely but certainly showed their inexperience in the big stage. Our libero lineup of Dawn Macandili and Cienne Cruz have been inconsistent on a set-to-set basis and on crucial points in yesterday’s game proved to be the weakest link in the La Salle six.
The little communication that the team had when Ara was still playing was virtually gone in Games 1 and 2; simple yells of “mine” and “yours”, a volleyball basic were nowhere to be heard on the DLSU side of the net.
With the next volleyball tournament set to start in at a later than usual date (early 2016), the girls will have almost one year to reflect, reassess, heal (Galang and Cruz) and improve their skills and weaknesses. The expected return of former starting setter Mika Esperanza should also bode well for the leadership and veteran presence in the team.
As Ateneo sealed match and championship point yesterday, I could only turn to my former officemate (and Atenean) who was watching the game to my left and shook his hand to congratulate his team. The Lady Eagles might have outplayed, outwitted and outlasted DLSU this year. But expect a harder (playing), better, faster, stronger La Salle six in Season 78.
Despite the shortcomings of the Green Archers, Lady Spikers and DLSU teams to achieve a General Championship three-peat, this has been one hell of a season.
Animo La Salle!