by rick olivares pic by winston baltasar
That was some remarkable win by the La Salle Lady Spikers in Game 3 of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals.
They lost Game 5, a heartbreaker to be sure. And they even lost the first set of Game 3. Yet like any good champion, they should the erstwhile defending champions, Ateneo, that they aren’t the only ones who can come back. They did, shutting the door convincingly on Ateneo to take the next three sets.
Furthermore, they avenged all their losses this past season. National University defeated them in the first round and in their second round bout, knocked them out of any playoff contention for the fourth seat of the Final Four. After their huge first round win over Ateneo, UST feasted on them as their level noticeably went down. They returned the favor and defeated the Golden Tigresses in the second round. In the Final Four, pushed to the brink by the resurgent Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws, they swept them in three to enter the finals.
However, they saved the best for last by denying the Lady Eagles a three-peat. Tit-fot-tat after Ateneo’s miraculous recovery in Season 76 when La Salle was going for a four-peat. It also represents a personal victory for Ara Galang who came back from a devastating knee injury before the Finals of last year to become one of the league’s top performers this season. While Galang finished 10th in scoring and fourth in spiking during the eliminations (in the Finals, she averaged 10.3 points per game), she had clearly passed the torch to Kim Dy, who will be their next go-to star. And there’s the old master himself, Ramil De Jesus, who has matched wits with Ateneo counterpart, Anusorn Bundit, for the past three years. After losing for two seasons running, he’s bested Bundit.
Bundit clearly raised the bar of coaching in the past three seasons. Even if he lost, he was still very good. But this season, De Jesus, returned to the summit. And how!
I thought that even in their very first game this season, La Salle looked very impressive. They looked superbly conditioned and even more motivated. That hunger was evident from the very first serve of the season. Their one flaw that I figured was their tendency to let their level of play drop especially after a big win.
In contrast, I thought that even with Ateneo’s six-match win streak heading into the first round encounter with La Salle, there were cracks on the wall. In some of my match analyses during the season, while I pointed out that Ateneo’s floor defense wasn’t as bad as it looked like. Statistically, they were even better than last season. The problem is, almost every team -- not only La Salle, FEU, and UP — raised the level of their play. That is why up to the second to the last playing week of the eliminations, save for UE and Adamson, every other team had a shot at the playoffs. Furthermore, Ateneo couldn’t replicate their recipe for scoring in the utility position from Season 77 when they featured Michelle Morente and Jhoana Maraguinot. As valiant as Kim Gequillana was for the Lady Eagles, the lack of dependable scoring support for Alyssa Valdez (aside from their floor defense) hurt them.
Even if La Salle lost Game 2 of the Finals, it didn’t mean that the title was automatically going to Katipunan. Not when you have the Best Setter, Best Blocker, as well as the Best Receiver and Digger around. Of course, there were all those wondrous weapons in Galang, Dy, and Cyd Demecillo so there was plenty of firepower to go around.
I thought that La Salle had an easier time beating Ateneo — three sets in the first round, three sets in Game One, and four sets in Game 3. Whereas Ateneo needed five sets in the second round and in Game Two to pull out a win. That meant they needed to pull out all the stops. And unfortunately for them, they didn’t get it done in Game Three.
After perhaps the most competitive season we’ve seen with challenges left and right, the Lady Spikers are supreme. A ninth UAAP crown is ensconced in Taft. And what a story it is. Taking a most meaningful championship against their arch-rivals.
They’ll be celebrating this in Taft for a while.