It was during a rainy morning when Cholo Villanueva, head coach of the De La Salle University Women’s Basketball Team, ran his players through various drills and kept a close eye on their fine executions and lapses on both ends of the floor.
The former Green Archer barked instruction after instruction while his players, the Lady Archers, listened intently as they were getting ready for a long campaign ahead in the UAAP Season 82 Women’s Basketball Tournament.
After a finals appearance in Season 79, the Lady Archers failed to make the Final Four in Seasons 80 and 81. If the first instance was due to injuries, the next one can be blamed on bad luck as an 8-6 record is normally enough to make the post-season.
However, that is all in the past now.
“We’re progressing well. We used the off-season to join Breakdown Basketball. We joined the Fr. Martin’s Cup. We had a tournament in Xiamen, China. From the training camp and the tournaments, we’re progressing right on target,” said the two-time UAAP champion.
That trip to China, in particular, to compete in the Xiamen International Tournament 2019 was one that hastened the learning curve for the team on and off the court.
“Of course, we learned a lot from the other countries that we played against (since we were) playing bigger teams that I think we won’t have an opportunity to play here except for NU and FEU because in China most of them, even guards, are big. So you need to make quicker decisions, you need to have quicker rotations just to keep up with the other teams,” said Villanueva.
“It was also a very good experience for us and also especially off the court being with your teammates the whole day, the whole week for seven or eight days (and) knowing something new about your teammate creates good chemistry going into the UAAP,” he added.
Perhaps one big difference this season compared to the previous years is that the UAAP’s first semester sports shall follow a compressed scheduled to give way for the country’s hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games come November to December. Come what may, though, everything boils down on how the Lady Archers will adhere to their primary principles.
“Of course, it’s still going to be our identity. We outwork opponents. We use our quickness. We pressure the ball a lot. We push the ball a lot. Our trapping defense is still the same,” he furthered.
One factor that may hamper La Salle’s target of a post-season return is the graduation of veteran guards Camille Claro, Khate Castillo and Kat Nunez. Those three players contributed an average of 11.9, 10.3 and 8.2 points respectively last season. Whoever will be called upon to replace their scoring contributions have big shoes to fill.
“If you’re going to look at my players, most of them are first-year and second-year players,” said the 2007 Co-Finals MVP. “After the departures of Claro, Castillo and Nunez, most of the guards are young so I think we can improve on better decision making on offense and on defense. We’re a work in progress so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
When the training session ended roughly before 11:00 AM, players and coaches alike huddled around to listen to the current Makati Skyscrapers mentor to wrap up their practice, which started in the early hours of the day. Once the team said its prayers and battlecry, they all gathered around to joke around and eat their recovery meals. All in a day’s work.
“We were one game away from the Final Four last year. This year that’s the first goal for us, making it to the Final Four and then we’ll see what happens from there. Having not been able to participate in the Final Four for the past two years, we’re hungry to be in that situation over again,” concluded Villanueva.
The quest to return to the Final Four has well and truly begun.
The Lady Archers open their campaign against the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons on September 4, 2019, 10:00 AM, at the University of Santo Tomas Quadricentennial Pavilion.