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Looking at the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ two-game slide
by rick olivares
What is ailing the Ateneo Lady Eagles?
To distill it in its simplest form -- poor defense. Second, every other team seems to have stepped up their game while Ateneo still has yet to adjust. They sure didn’t against UP.
Let’s back track.
The Lady Eagles got by in the first round with overpowering offense that masked their deficiency — poor receiving and digging. Opposing teams like UP, UST, Adamson, and FEU were learning the ropes with their team a balance of rookies and veterans. You can make the case for Ateneo having a crop of new players but of the starting six, only converted libero Jamie Lavitoria is the new one (although she was on last year’s championship squad).
The first round for other squads was also developing their chemistry. Check out the way UP played Ateneo this second round. It was much different from their first round encounter.
You have to give it to La Salle for shattering that mantle of invincibility.
Ateneo raised the bar of women’s volleyball with Anusorn Bundit’s approach to the game. If they were the paragons of fitness and power, well everyone else picked up the baton. And now the other teams are running away with it.
The intensity and ferocity of the Lady Spikers in their recent match was something Ateneo had not faced in a while. The last time I saw that was Game Two of the Season 75 Finals after Ateneo took the finals opener against La Salle. The Lady Spikers came out with fire in their eyes.
This Season 78, DLSU crushed Ateneo with a violent combination of powerful offense and choking defense. Watching the huddles of that game against La Salle: one, there was no meditation, and two, there was a form of panic (and this was confirmed by a player).
In Season 77, of the 16 matches Ateneo played, 12 were won via three-set sweeps. Thrice they went the distance and thrice they prevailed. What was missing then was the great floor and net defense that they played.
This Season 78, Ateneo won five three-setters and one four-setter before losing in an embarrassing three-set sweep to La Salle. Now they lost a four-setter after taking the first set.
Even as Ateneo took the first set from UP, they didn’t look that great. They outsteadied UP for sure but they didn’t look great. In fact, the Lady Maroons didn’t even look down after conceding the first set. Instead they raised the level of their game.
More often than not, whatever Ateneo threw at them they returned. As the game expression goes, hindi mapatay yung bola. When the Lady Eagles did receive they didn’t attack well enough sometimes taking ill-advised shots if not weak put backs.
The common denominator between La Salle and UP? They are two of the three best defensive teams (the other is UST).
Now Ateneo has its first back-to-back loss. Something they have not had to deal with in three years.
So how to they deal with this and what do I think?
Two things: first heavy is the head that wears the crown. The Lady Eagles are the hunted. At first, there was the burden of a 24-match win streak that stretched across three seasons. Well, that is a thing of the past. It is time to move forward. But clearly, they are struggling with the weight of expectations (not that there is anything wrong with that but it does come with the territory). UP is playing without any burden of expectations and that is a world of a difference.
Losses either make you. Or they break you. With dangerous NU on deck, we’re about to find out what they are made of.
However, right now, it’s a confidence problem. Mental, even.
Second, I think that at this point, Bundit might want to re-think his game plan. Maybe someone should transfer that banner that says “Defense wins championships" from the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center to Blue Eagle Gym.
Ateneo Volleyball Program Director Sherwin Malonzo believes it is a slump.
The famed New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter is one who is accustomed to slumps. Said Jeter about facing slumps during his final season in pinstripes two seasons ago, "I've always looked forward to the next one (game). I always felt that the best way for me to deal with things was to not sit around and dwell on it too much -- good or bad. I try to look forward. I'm 0-for what now; 0-for-24 (in at-bats)? In my mind, I try to forget about that. That's how I try to deal with it. That goes for good things as well. I try to look forward."
"So it's been very difficult for me to enjoy (moments along the way). This season I've tried, but it's still an awkward thing to be going through your last season and trying to enjoy it when you're still trying to win games. I guess my mind just works different than most people, but I've always just tried to move on.”
Indeed. It is time to move on.
The days of “Happy Happy” are suspended for now…. the Lady Eagles have to dig deep and raise the level of their game.
The battle has been joined.