A season on the brink for NU
by rick olivares
It’s a cruel April Fool’s Day joke. National University, touted as one of the contenders for the Season 79 UAAP Women’s Volleyball Championship are in sixth place with a 7-6 record.
The Lady Bulldogs fell in three sets to the suddenly alive Far Eastern University Lady Tamara’s who vaulted to third place.
While the middle of the pack is still crowded – FEU is 7-6, UP is 7-5 and UST are both at 7-5 yet part ways today with a match between themselves – NU is in a bind. Among the third to sixth placers, NU has lost the most number of sets with 25. Conversely, they have won only 25 sets, an indication of a struggle.
Their one shining light this season has been MVP contender Jana Santiago but not even Michael Jordan could do it alone.
Technically, they still have a chance of advancing to the Final Four but that depends on the fate of other squads and not wholly their own. And their sole remaining match is against UST that is also in a desperate mood. They are on the outside and looking through a slim opening.
For all the squads, never mind the scenarios – it’s just win a game. The fewer the sets the better but a win is a must.
There’s no need to belabor the obvious about NU underachieving.
As I have postulated elsewhere, the problem of the Lady Bulldogs is their collective mental fortitude (their tendency to collapse on the big stage) and their defensive misfortunes.
You say they won the V-League. Sure, they did. And they should since the Atene Lady Eagles team they faced isn’t even remotely anywhere near the team currently playing in the UAAP. But they came in without expectations, and they do well when there are none. After all, that was after their UAAP Season 78 flop.
It was touted that they were a happier and lighter team after all the brouhaha involving former Myla Pablo underperforming in the previous season. That is all gone. It dissipated as early as this year’s first round.
Age is unfortunately a high price for maturity. While it would be premature to write an obituary about this team as they have one more game this season and they will be around for at least another season, the maturity still rears its ugly head.
If you look at their matches this year, many sets are fought into the 20’s but they run out of steam in the end.
They have the talent, no doubt. But the mental strength isn’t there. If you look at the composition of the team, they have three fourth-year players in Santiago, Aiko Urdas, and Gayle Valdez; three juniors in Jorelle Singh, Rose Doria, and Joy Doromal; two sophomores in Jasmine Nabor and Audrey Paran; and three rookies in Risa Sato, Joni Chavez, and Laarni Aberin. Sato isn’t exactly a rookie having played in the V-League for Ateneo where she was supposed to originally suit up.
That’s the right flavor or mix in rearing a contender.
However, I recall during their first ever practices two and a half years ago under Roger Gorayeb, players were quitting on the receiving and digging drills. Imagine that! Quitting and saying they couldn’t do it anymore. This isn’t to exonerate the coaching staff as clearly, this team has underachieved. So this is one them too. While the anecdote was from a couple of years ago, the woes still remain.
You can break that down into their being dead last in digging and receiving. They are good in blocking but that has more to do with Santiago individually than the collective effort. The problem is when she rotates to the back and onto the bench.
As of last Saturday, the Lady Bulldogs surrendered the most number of points thus far with 1,107. That is 110 points more than last place and winless Adamson. The material they have is much better than Adamson so this beggars the imagination. Now that you cannot trivialize.
Their problems extend all the way to six years ago. Six years of underachieving even if they have put on the floor some pretty good line-ups. Sure, they have three V-League titles to crow about and as good as that is, it doesn’t rank as high as a UAAP title.
I feel for this team. Who knows, maybe a win here and there, they are in and they can take their chances. But until April 8 when they face off with UST, it will all be anxiety. And they have all these questions they have to answer. How their season ends will also beget more questions and a demand for answers.