The Lady Spikers dispatched ambitious Ateneo in straight sets today in their stepladder playoff to clinch their spot in the finals. It was probably the best game of the team this season, and coming from a lackluster loss to Adamson, was a good indication of their readiness to challenge unbeaten NU.
The factors that played into today’s victory are also the keys to the chances of the Lady Spikers against favored NU.
Setting was varied and involved all attackers.
Mars Alba snapped out of her funk and effectively distributed the ball across all her options. She called the right plays, kept the opponents guessing until the last moment, which prevented the blockers from setting up their net defense. The quality and variety of her sets was excellent, and it was reflected in the points scored by our frontliners: Leiah Malaluan with 16, Jolina dela Cruz and Thea Gagate with 13 each, Fifi Sharma with 8 and Leila Cruz with 6. Alba is learning to disguise her intentions until the last second, and this makes it difficult for the opponents’ blockers to position themselves properly.
Our net defense was more effective.
The Lady Spikers scored 9 points on kill blocks, and altered 46 more hits by Ateneo. The active blocking forced Ateneo’s hitters to change their shots to try to evade the blocks, causing errors or softer hits. Only Nisperos was consistently able to attack our defense, but she was limited to just 19 points out of 49 attempts. The Lady Spikers will need to keep this up if they want to have a chance to win against NU, which has several good attackers.
The floor defense was very good.
When it mattered, the Lady Spikers were able to retrieve shots that would have fallen earlier in the season. They were more active in reading the direction of the attacks, and were able to pass the ball to Alba.
Mental fortitude was present.
The Lady Spikers kept their calm throughout the match, not getting rattled by the inevitable runs Ateneo would make, and patiently set up their counters. They managed to break all attempts by Ateneo at building some momentum even when Ateneo crept to within a point late in the 3rd set.
Confidence is important.
After a week’s worth of preparation, during which the team did not play any tune-up games, they prepared both physically and emotionally. The Lady Spikers were relaxed and confident, and were having fun on the court even during tight moments. They reinforced the feel-good aura throughout the game, giving each other the emotional support so critical in teamwork.
Scouting and opponent-specific tactics matter.
The Ateneo game was a prime example of how good Ramil and his assistants are at mapping out specific strategies against opponents, something that wasn’t really apparent during the eliminations, where the preparations were more generic and targeted at learning the mechanics as well as getting to know teammates more. For sure they will have studied NU’s strengths and prepared counter measures, and identified potential weaknesses the team might be able to exploit.
In conclusion, if the team plays the way they did today against Ateneo, we have a shot at beating NU and retaking the title.