Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is third time the charm for the NU Lady Bulldogs?

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Is third time the charm for the NU Lady Bulldogs?
by rick olivares 

Maybe the third time is the charm for the National University Lady Bulldogs volleyball team.

After wrapping up the recent Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference with a two-game sweep in the finals of the Ateneo Lady Eagles (incidentally, all three of NU’s SVL titles have come at the expense of their Katipunan-based rivals), the question that should be asked is, “Are they now ready to win the UAAP?”

While the defending champion, La Salle Lady Spikers are still the favored team, NU will no doubt be a contender. Say that again, a top contender.

This is the first time where the Lady Bulldogs eschewed a guest player in taking a SVL title. In their previous two championships, they heavily relied on a guest players - the first with setter Rubie De Leon, and the second with former NU player Dindin Santiago and De Leon in tow. This time, the team that was fielded for the entire tournament was the line-up they’d go to come UAAP.

En route to the championship, they only absorbed one loss, to Ateneo. However, they repaid that with a two-game sweep in the finals. 

There are several key components to look at in this tournament for NU.

One, is their supposed maturity. Of the team that won their first SVL title in 2012, only middle hitter Jaja Santiago and utility spiker Aiko Urdas remain with both heading into their fourth season. The rest are a smattering of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.

Jorelle Singh, Joy Doromal, Roselyn Doria, and Gayle Valdez are on their third year. Setter Jasmine Nabor is in her second season and they also have rookies Risa Sato, Audrey Paran, and Larnie Aberin. Sato isn’t exactly a rookie having trained and played with Ateneo for a couple of years before moving to NU. Essentially, this line-up has been playing together for over a year dating back to Season 78 and what a year they’ve had. 

I raised maturity given all the upheavals they have endured in the past two seasons that saw them crash and burn. They went from pre-season contenders to an underachieving clueless bunch that only won because of its guest players. They endured a coaching change and pressure from outside sources that nearly undid the team. That’s enough to take a few years off you in age. 

That all changed in the Reinforced Conference of this current SVL season where the team looked more loose, energetic, and for all intents and purposes, better. However, it also involved moving some pieces across the chessboard.

If you look at that line-up that's 11 players. Good feng shui.

Second is the promotion of Jasmine Nabor from middle and utlity player to setter. Nabor was a setter in high school who was converted to the utility and open positions sometimes playing the middle. Unlike some who struggle with the different position changes, Nabor thrived. The young lass from Tarlac soaked in everything and the move back to her more natural position has made her a deadlier and far better player. She can not only set, be she can really hit and even block. 

More to her playmaking in which she has gotten better with every tournament, is her aura. Disposition if you will. Her happy nature has rubbed off on her teammates. Last year’s team could mask its feelings. When the going went rough, the rough stayed on the court.

Nabor led all setters in the past two SVLs but ultimately lost out to Philippine Air Force’s Wendy Semana and Ateneo’s Jia Morado. No doubt, that will fuel her drive as the UAAP approaches.

The third is, it is time for Jaja Santiago to ascend to the throne as college volleyball’s best player. With Alyssa Valdez graduated, all eyes are now on the 6’4” Santiago who is ready. She is as close as to an unstoppable force in volleyball with her height and power. Now she has a very good setter to help her. Furthermore, she’s played in the finals of the Philippine Superliga with Foton (where she lost) and the finals of the Shakey’s V-League (where she won). Leading NU to its first ever UAAP title will be a massive accomplishment for Santiago and would be a fitting end to this season.

It will not be easy as Ateneo, UP, and UST all figure to crowd La Salle and NU at the summit of the most prestigious volleyball crown in the land. All will be watching their poise and determination to see if they can parlay their pre-season success into UAAP glory.

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