|Ella De Jesus scored only four points in Game One, but she held serve and wreaked havoc on La Salle's defense.|
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Breaking down Ateneo’s Game One win over La Salle
25-18, 25-19, 25-19
game analysis by rick olivares pic by arvin lim
game analysis by rick olivares pic by arvin lim
The two biggest questions heading into Game One were:
- Will the Ateneo Lady Eagles show any signs of rust?
- Who will La Salle turn to for the lost points of Ara Galang?
Were they answered? Read on.
I don’t think the Lady Eagles were at the sharpest but they were still plenty good enough to put away the Lady Spikers.
Amy Ahomiro was a little off in her hitting. That snap of the wrist, that timing when walloping the ball, was somewhat off. But in spite of that, she still had seven points. Imagine when she gets her timing back.
At the start of the match, without Ara Galang, Ateneo just had single coverage on La Salle’s attackers. Mary Joy Baron and Christine Soyud got some early points but after a few plays, the double block was on and La Salle now had a little trouble getting past that wall.
I felt that Ateneo was trying to read what La Salle was doing – who was Kim Fajardo going to set up and who was coming off the bench -- and when they got the feel of their offense then they adjusted. She tried to get a lot of her teammates involved but there were not too many surprises. I felt that Ramil De Jesus had to dig deep and bring in Camille Cruz and Justine Tiu to help because their reception wasn’t great.
And that leads me to the services, I thought that Ella De Jesus was scintillating in her serves. In that first set, she served six consecutive times and they were strong serves that really wrecked La Salle’s defense and offense. De Jesus targeted Desiree Cheng and later Dawn Macandili who had all sorts of trouble receiving that ball. It was 8-8 after De Jesus’ drop shot evened it up at 8-8. By the time she was done serving it was 13-9. That set the tone and put some distance.
I recall three years ago, La Salle’s servers were targeting Denden Lazaro even if she had a great season at libero. They felt she was Ateneo’s weak link on defense. I had my eyebrow cocked because I didn’t think she received poorly. In fact, I thought that her defensive play saved the Lady Eagles on many an occasion. Nevertheless…
Remember, I thought Ateneo wasn’t sharp early on. De Jesus’ serves really rattled La Salle (although she started the match with a service error). And later on, you could see all the Lady Eagles target the two as well. At one point, La Salle moved Cheng to the right side that when the serve came in swung out. Bullet momentarily dodged. Without Cheng in the game, La Salle had to go deep into its bench.
Ramil De Jesus was noticeably upset when he called for a timeout with Ateneo leading 16-10 in the first set. What the Lady Spikers needed to do was stay close to get a fighting chance.
The service error by Baron to end the first set was anti-climactic.
In the second set, the Lady Eagles started slow again but got going when Jia Morado and Michelle Morente helped out in the point production. Ateneo put a little distance from a 7-7 tie when Ella De Jesus once more held serve to give her side a 10-7 lead.
Ateneo’s serve was quite a weapon in Game One. They only had six service errors. For a while they were averaging double-digit service errors!
Look at the order of their service – Ella, Amy, Jia, Alyssa, Bea, and Michelle. The sports analogy I can think of is baseball’s leadoff hitter who has great on-base percentage. Strong first serve that leads to a poor reception, you rattle the opponent early.
La Salle answered with their version of the strong serve in the middle of the third set with Fajardo sending some strong serves across the net. Ateneo wavered for a moment when they had a series of poor receptions, sets and attacks. La Salle tied it at 13-all. With the momentum on their side Baron gave the ball back with a service error. In their next serve, Soyud hit into the net as well! Presented with an opportunity to further rattle Ateneo, they committed two unforced errors. After Valdez’ spike went off Soyud to make it 16-14, La Salle was just out of it.
With Ella serving once more Ateneo scored two points – a Morado drop shot and a misplay where La Salle’s Camille Cruz came down with a knee injury. I was surprised that no point was given to Ateneo considering the ball went out. That should have been 23-18 at that point but when Ella served again, the score was still 22-18. Valdez scored on a drop shot for match point, 25-19.
You have to feel for La Salle that feels like its snake bit this post-season. Galang suffers an injury and now Cruz who gave a good account of herself in limited minutes. One can only pray that it isn’t as bad and that she recovers quickly.
I have heard that their team has had tougher practices this post-season (the Final Four and beyond) and that has apparently punished their bodies. If that is true, then it is wrong because your body isn’t attuned to that this late in the tournament. Had they started out that way from the summer then it is fine. This is the part of the year where all that coaching is mostly out of the window and what you really turn to is your mental toughness.
Did La Salle have any strong points? Kim Fajardo was superb as she registered 20 excellent sets while adding three points of her own (coincidentally, Morado had the same numbers). I like how Cyd Demecillo exerted herself. But she needs help. Baron and Soyud have become their primary sources of points and they will need to produce a little more if they want to extend the series.
The Lady Spikers have their backs on the wall. What they need to do is come out with a lot of energy. I felt that was missing this year with the departure of Aby Maraño who bent that team to her iron will. No disrespect to Ara Galang but I think La Salle misses that angas leader who gets her teammates to raise the level of their game. For so long that was their fear factor. That sort of evaporated with last year’s finals loss to Ateneo and their first round meeting this Season 77.
Now the Lady Eagles are on the cusp of a second consecutive title. They have won 15 straight, a women’s record in the UAAP. La Salle won 14 more than a decade ago and was declared outright champions. In the Final Four era, Ateneo can make history again with a 16-game season sweep should they win Game Two.
Ateneo has shown they can deal with the rust of 20 or 21 days. They didn’t have any jitters whatsoever in Game One. The questions heading for Game Two are: Can Ateneo close it out and can La Salle to make a game of it?
We’ll know by Saturday.