in GoArchers, Volleyball

Lady Spikers UAAP Season Preview: A difficult climb to history

Season 80 Summary: 12-2; finished first in the elimination round; defeated the NU Lady Bulldogs in the Final Four; defeated the FEU Lady Tamaraws in the Finals in two games to win the school’s 11th women’s volleyball title.

Additions: Marionne Alba, Des Clemente, Jolina Dela Cruz, Anna Hatulan, Ferlyn Nomil, Erika Santos

Departures: Mary Joy Baron, Gyra Barroga, Kim Kianna Dy, Arianne Layug, Dawn Macandili, Justine Tiu

Holdovers: Desiree Cheng, Michelle Cobb, Rovena Instrella, Norielle Ipac, May Luna, Aduke Ogunsanya, Carmel June Saga, Ernestine Tiamzon

Background:

“Sa totoo lang, nung nakita ko sila, height lang nakita ko. Ito naman di ko pinapansin.”

Ramil De Jesus was talking to reporters in the press room the Araneta Coliseum after the

Lady Spikers defeated the FEU Lady Tamaraws in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 80 Women’s Volleyball Finals to win their third straight title, and 11th overall for La Salle.

The players were still basking in the warm glow of victory, and even De Jesus flashed a rare smile as he recounted the memory of meeting some of the players who would become a fixture of his program for the next five years. And those players who he thought were merely tall and the other one that he did not notice? He was actually referring to Kim Dy, Majoy Baron, and Dawn Macandili.

At that point, it was hard to imagine that the team’s three seniors, who rode off into the sunset and finished their collegiate careers with three straight titles, would go unnoticed, even in the eyes of a coach like De Jesus. Dy, after all, was a Finals MVP in Season 78, while Baron was the Season 78 Best Blocker and Season 79 MVP. Macandili, meanwhile, was adjudged as the Finals MVP just minutes before, and has racked up awards at the collegiate, semi-professional, and even the regional level. But at the time, it was true.

“Alam ko sasakit ulo ko sa pagtuturo,” De Jesus went on. “Bihira yung dumadating sa akin na players na very talented. Hard worker itong mga to kaya umangat level nila.”

Thanks to the players’ hard work, and with De Jesus guiding them, they improved until they became among the best in the country. The La Salle mentor is no stranger to developing talented players into stars, and Dy, Baron, and Macandili were just the latest testaments to that.

But even then, just moments after winning a title, De Jesus understood that replacing the latest batch of players that he developed will not be an easy task. But one thing he knew was that there were other players to develop.

“Every year naman may mawawala.” he said. “Kung meron magtitiyaga mag-step up, ganun naman lagi ‘yun. In my 20 years, laging may nawawala at laging may nag-step up.”

With the season set to begin in a couple of days, fans will finally see the next group of players who answered his challenge, and who will reap the benefits of being guided by the league’s winningest coach.

Outlook:

De Jesus may have seen it all in the collegiate ranks, but one thing he has yet to accomplish is win four straight UAAP titles, which hasn’t been done in the Final Four era.

The Lady Spikers have won three straight championships thrice in De Jesus’ two decades in charge. They first did it in Seasons 66, 67, and 68, then again in Seasons 73, 74, and 75. They completed another treble of titles last year, but are yet to win four straight.

But to accomplish this historic feat, they will have to fill the void left by Dy, Baron, and Macandili while integrating rookies into their system, all while having a huge target on their backs as three-time defending champions.

Former Lady Eagle Michelle Morente could have helped the team and already played for the team in the Beach Volleyball tournament last year, but will instead suit up for the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in the Philippine SuperLiga (PSL).

The task now falls on team captain Desiree Cheng and veterans Aduke Ogunsanya, Tin Tiamzon, May Luna, and Michelle Cobb to lead the squad and do something no other Lady Spiker has done.

An important addition is former University of Perpetual Help Lady Altas Lourdes Clemente, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker who is set to play for a year and will take the place of Baron, while Palarong Pambansa standouts Jolina Dela Cruz and Erika Santos will also play important roles as rookies.

With all these changes, De Jesus and the team are already making adjustments. In interviews, members of the team admitted that they will field a smaller lineup compared to past seasons, which led to an emphasis on floor defense and service.

The Lady Spikers repeated as champions despite losing the likes of Jacq Alarca and Steph Mercado in Season 75, and won two years ago despite the departure of Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, and Cyd Demecillo.

In the end, it all comes back to what De Jesus said last year after winning their third straight title: “Every year naman may mawawala.” he said. “Kung meron magtitiyaga mag-step up, ganun naman lagi ‘yun. In my 20 years, laging may nawawala at laging may nag-step up.”

#FourThe Win Starts Here: La Salle’s defense of the UAAP women’s volleyball title begins on Sunday, February 17, when they face arch-rival Ateneo, 4p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.