Like the previous two seasons, the two-time defending champion DLSU Lady Spikers finished their first seven games of the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament toting 5-2 win-loss cards. Leaning on the past two Finals MVPs, Kim Kianna Dy on the right flank and Desiree Cheng at the service line, the La Salle six bounced back from a lackluster loss against the Adamson Lady Falcons by beating the Ateneo Lady Eagles in four sets, 25-20, 25-17, 24-26, 25-20.
KKD was a beast on both sides of the net, punching in 11 attack points using her patented and unstoppable hits from the opposite side while dishing out seven of the team’s total 12 blocks to deny any chance of an Ateneo upset. Dy (3) and Cheng (7), the Finals MVPs of Seasons 78 and 79, respectively, combined for 10 of the team’s total 16 services aces, completely taking advantage of the Lady Eagles’ rookie libero and poor reception.
So dominating was Cheng that there were two stretches, one in the second set and another in the fourth, when the fourth year open spiker’s stint at the service area seemed like forever. Targeting Ateneo’s inexperience libero, 18,537 people inside the Mall of Asia Arena plus the AdMU bench knew which zone Cheng was aiming her serves yet Ateneo couldn’t prevent feeling helpless every time no. 2 winds up behind the service line.
After a “barangay”-level effort in the loss against Adamson, DLSU came out of the gate strong, scoring the first eight points for both teams (two service errors) for a quick 6-2 lead and eventually taking the first set 25-20. Sets two and four mirrored each other in that La Salle posted similar 16-13 and 16-11 leads through a combination of balanced production, blocking, and sharp serving before putting the finishing touches for win number five.
It would have been a straights sets win if not for the third frame where the Lady Spikers fell behind early, 10-16, and even faced its biggest deficit of the game, 11-21. A spirited rally led by KKD and ended with two Desiree Cheng service aces tied the set at 21-all. Reaching their first match point of the game at 24-22, La Salle couldn’t finish a wounded Lady Eagles squad as the latter extended the game by scoring the last four points in the third.
Aside from the graduating KKD’s game-high 21 markers, several players also finished in double figures as Tin Tiamzon (13), Cheng (11), and Aduke Ogunsanya and Majoy Baron (10 each) provided head coach Ramil de Jesus with consistent and balanced output.
The midway point of Season 80 gives us a chance to look back at what the team needs to do better if they want to be the last squad standing at the end of the season.
The uninspired straight sets win over the UE Lady Warriors, subpar showing in the loss against Adamson and being down big in the third set against the Lady Eagles showed complacency and inconsistency in the part of the Taft-based squad. The team played to the level of UE while failing to match the intensity and hunger of the Lady Falcons.
There is a standard of play that 10-time UAAP champion coach RdJ expects from his squad and this season is no exception. La Salle’s long-time mentor, in his 21st year manning the DLSU sideline, is aiming to bring the Lady Spikers to the finals for the 18th time and give him his third three-peat inside 15 seasons.
Having seen it all in the world of women’s collegiate volleyball, de Jesus is right when he demands the trademark character and style of play that La Salle teams have shown throughout the years. The girls have displayed intimidating defense at the net and on the floor, fearless spiking, and being clutch in the crucial moments at select moments this season, they now have to bring these consistently into the second round and beyond.
And finally there’s second-year setter Michelle Cobb. With big shoes to fill, last year’s understudy to three-time UAAP Best Setter Kim Fajardo not only inherits a loaded option of wings and middle hitters at her disposal but also the pressure of keeping La Salle’s well-oiled engine humming. Cobb, despite being in the Top 2 in setting and leading the league in serving, needs to have better decision-making especially in the closing moments of sets and games.
Performances like the game against the UP Lady Maroons where Cobb finished off the match via three straight aces must be the norm instead of doubtful plays, shaky setting, and losing the battle of the setters against NU (outset 53-27 by Jasmine Nabor), AdU (43-29 against Fen Emnas), and even AdMU (36-22 vs. Deanna Wong).
It can be overwhelming for Cobb to deliver on a consistent basis, so it will be up to RdJ and the team’s veterans – similar to what the team did during a timeout in the latter parts of yesterday’s match – to boost Cobb’s confidence.
Animo La Salle!