Even with a convincing 25-18, 25-20, 25-18 straight-sets win over the UE Lady Warriors, it is easy to see that, at least for Season 81, the margin of error for the three-time defending UAAP champion DLSU Lady Spikers is razor thin.
Gone are the days when the team seems to start every game with a one or two set advantage even before the first referee blows his whistle to officially start the match. After taking the first set in wire-to-wire fashion, DLSU needed to dig deep to come out of a 3-10 hole in the second set. Countering the Lady Warriors’ attacks with blocks (five) and serves (3), La Salle unleashed a 13-5 run that turned the tide in their favor, 16-15, by the second technical timeout.
Even after taking the second set thanks to a 9-5 run, the Lady Spikers were once again catching up on UE to open the third frame but caught up to tie the set at 10-all. The Lady Warriors could only keep in step with La Salle at 18-17 before the defending champs took seven of the next eight points to wrap up the match.
Though they were out-attacked by an ever-improving UE six, 30-32, the Lady Spikers dominated the rest of the scoring skills categories: blocks (9-2) and service aces (10-2), and most importantly, committed less errors, 20-26.
Trying to arrest a two-game losing streak and entering the match knowing that team captain Desiree Cheng won’t play to rest an ailing shoulder injury, the team leaned on one of the strengths of this year’s version of the Lady Spikers: a deep roster where anybody can produce when given the chance.
Fourth-year winger Tin Tiamzon willingly and ably took Cheng’s starting spot and DLSU didn’t miss a beat as Tiamzon scored 10 points on a variety of hits. Transferee Lourdes Clemente once again showed promise as she continues to understand what UAAP competition is all about. The 6’1 middle blocker had her finest afternoon in Season 81 thus far, scoring eight points with half of that coming from demoralizing blocks.
Marrione Alba, a virtual Swiss-army knife who can play both setter and open hitter positions also had a complete game of four points and 12 digs, while fellow rookie Jolina dela Cruz once again led La Salle in scoring with 14.
Facing an inspired and wounded UST Golden Tigresses last Wednesday, La Salle really had to play flawlessly if they wanted to prevent the team’s first back-to-back elimination round loses since Season 70. Those who were in attendance at the Filoil Flying V Center could see how determined Cheng and Mayang Luna (swollen cheek) were to push through their ailments and arrest the team’s woes; but the body, even that of well-conditioned athletes, can only go so far.
An anemic offense (only 28 attacks versus 41 for UST) coupled with only a slight edge on blocks (7-6) and serves (6-5) left the Green and White gallery wondering what and who they were watching during the three-set affair. Throughout the 1 hour, 24-minute match, the La Salle defense was no match against UST’s high-leaping hitters Sisi Rondina and rookie Eya Laure, with the duo combining to score almost half (34) of the Golden Tigresses’ total 75 points.
Discombobulated movements, emotional play (instead of using one’s head and adjusting tactics), and unforced errors were on full display last March 6. However, history has also shown that the team ended the first round of the past three championship-winning seasons with identical 5-2 win-loss records and has finished the second round on even stronger notes.
Former Lady Spiker and current Petro Gazz team captain Stephanie Mercado couldn’t explain it any better: “It’s better to peak in the second round since doon na malapit matapos ang tournament; na mas importante sa standings. Itong first round, doon makikita yung mga kulang pa (sa team) at (yung) mga (kailangan) pa(ng) ayusin or i-practice, para come second round, ibang level of play na yung team and athletes.”
Like finding their second wind or shifting to a higher gear midway through a season, Ramil de Jesus-coached teams would rather start strong but finish stronger. Mercado added: “Through the years or seasons, you’ll see La Salle (have) slow starts, pero pag dating (ng) second round, parang ibang team na sila. Mas mabilis, mas fluid gumalaw, at mas matagal mapagod.”
The Lasallian community can only hold their breath that this batch of Lady Spikers can keep this years-long trend going.
La Salle wraps up their first round schedule by facing the FEU Lady Tamaraws in a rematch of Season 80’s finals on March 16, also at the Filoil Flying V Center.
Finally, we would like to share an insight sent to us from one of the more active alumni supporters of the team:
“The win gives us a huge sigh of relief. When Alba came in for Luna, the game plan focused on defense. Many were talking about the three libero/setter-combination on the court at the same time (Saga, Cobb, and Alba) and if I may add, Tin did a great job controlling the traffic inside the court.
I thought that we were about to lose the second set when we were trailing by seven points. Fortunately, when they recovered from this deficit, they also rediscovered what it takes to wear the La Salle jersey.
We committed a total of 20 errors; the service errors are still there. But more importantly, the mindset was all business. The team played solid defense and won with nerves of steel. For non-fans of DLSU, they can say that yesterday was a boring win over a lowly squad. But give credit to UE as they played a quality game against us.”
Animo La Salle!