DLSU Lady Spikers UAAP 78 Preview: A last chance for the veterans

Season 77 Summary: 12-2; finished second in the elimination round; defeated the NU Lady Bulldogs in the stepladder semifinals; lost to the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the finals;

Holdovers: Mary Joy Baron, Carol Ann Cerveza, Cyd Demecillo, Kim Dy, Mika Esperanza, Kim Fajardo (Team Captain), Ara Galang, Dawn Macandili, Mika Reyes, Christine Soyud

Additions: Norielle Ipac, May Luna, Carmel June Saga, Ernestine Tiamzon

Offseason Tournaments: Won the 2015 Philippine National Games (PNG), defeating the CSB Lady Blazers in the finals; won the 2015 Intergolleciate Volleyball Cup; joined the 2015 Unigames, and participated as the Meralco Power Spikers in the Philippine SuperLiga (PSL) last November.


March 7, 2015.

The game was in the fourth set, and the score was 22-20 for the Lady Spikers. The NU Lady Bulldogs had given them all they could handle, forcing a rubber match in their stepladder semifinals series. But La Salle was three points away from putting NU away. It looked like they were on their way to setting up another finals meeting against the unbeaten Ateneo Lady Eagles.

In the next play, Ara Galang, the team’s leader and best scorer, went up for a spike that made it 23-20. It was Galang’s 25th point of the match, and her sixth consecutive point, as she strapped the team on her back and made sure that they would avoid an upset.

But whatever joy La Salle fans had at that point quickly dissipated. Galang was crumpled on the floor of the Mall of Asia Arena, clutching her left knee and in obvious pain. She was placed on a stretcher and immediately rushed to a hospital. Desiree Cheng and Justine Tiu scored the final two points for the Lady Spikers as they completed their march to the finals, but faced an all-important question: Will Galang be able to play in the championship round?

As it turned out, Galang suffered a torn ACL and MCL on her left knee that required surgery. Her teammates tried to use this setback as a rallying point in the finals, but they ultimately ended up being swept by the Lady Eagles. After three years of being champions, the Lady Spikers finished as runners-up for two consecutive years, something that the the team’s players and supporters are not familiar with.

February 3, 2016.

Almost a year after her injury, Galang is back for her final tour of duty for the Lady Spikers, as the team is set to begin UAAP Season 78. Joining her are seniors Cyd Demecillo and setter Kim Fajardo, who won La Salle’s first Beach Volleyball title last October after defeating FEU, with Fajardo being crowned as the MVP. Also back for the Lady Spikers are middle blocker Mika Reyes, an important part of the team’s frontline, and setter Mika Esperanza, the Rookie of the Year back in Season 73 who missed last season due to injury.

The good news for the Lady Spikers is that they are one of the most experienced teams in the league. The bad news is that six players (Galang, Reyes, Fajardo, Demecillo, Esperanza, and Carol Cerveza), including four starters, will be gone after the season. This is what Season 78 means for the team’s veterans: A final shot at a title, a last chance to bring the volleyball championship to Taft Avenue and restore the school’s winning tradition before they pass the torch to the team’s younger but equally promising batch of players.

Outlook:

The road to the title, and even the finals, will not be easy. The Lady Bulldogs have emerged not only as Final Four contenders, but as legitimate championship contenders. Teams like the UP Lady Maroons and the FEU Lady Tamaraws have also improved and provide stiff competition.

Galang’s return from injury is certainly good news, and if she returns to her old, dominant form (she led the team with 17 points per game last season), then the Lady Spikers should be in the thick of the race to the Final Four, and maybe the top two semifinal slots. But injuries such as this take time to heal, and she will likely be less than 100% at the start of the season and will not immediately be playing heavy minutes.

This means that other veterans such as Reyes, Demecillo, Cerveza, and younger players like Baron, Kim Dy, Eli Soyud, and the rookies should pick up the slack and contribute if the team wants to play in the Final Four and beyond. With the injuries suffered by Galang, Camille Cruz, and Desiree Cheng, it is also important for the team to remain healthy, as this figures to be one of the more competitive seasons in recent memory.

The First Game: The Lady Spikers will make their debut this Season 78 against the FEU Lady Tamaraws tomorrow, 4pm at the Philsports Arena.

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