by Neal Tieng
Breaking News: Among the title contenders, the DLSU Lady Spikers are Season 84’s underdogs.
More Breaking News: the NU Lady Bulldogs are absolute machines.
This may come as a shocker to those who have seen the historically deadly side of the La Sallian volleybelles, but it is a simple undeniable truth – it will be an uphill climb from here on end.
So why such a challenging forecast when we seem to be rolling with a three-game winning streak? Well, the three-game winning run was done at the expense of teams that now belong among the league’s bottom half. UP, FEU and UE.
So aside from DLSU, who are the probably contenders this season? It’s down to NU, UST, Adamson and Ateneo, five teams that are probable challengers factoring in the expected changes in the second round such as better team cohesion and a more stable rotation.
Among those five, the unbeaten National U Lady Bulldogs has risen in the power rankings as the team to beat.
“They play like machines, halos automatic” said one volleyball fan in the stands of MOA watching National U demolish DLSU in the first round, “parang Ivan Drago kalaban si Rocky”.
Against the Lady Spikers, the well-coached National U was every bit that machine they described, precise in sets, able to penetrate the usually reliable La Salle floor defense with unstoppable hits, dropping the ball in precise spots, and blocking the tall green frontline all game long.
Defensively, they seemed to have spent quite a while studying Coach Ramil De Jesus’ playbook, and it seems that they already know what we will do and how they should counter at exactly the right time.
For the first time after three games, La Salle looked every bit the rookie-laden team that they are.
On the La Salle side of the net, facing an opponent with a core that has carried the national colors in regional competitions seems to have given them serious case of the jitters. The Lady Bulldogs scored on 10 service aces and rattled the green offense to season-low of only 8 excellent sets the entire match.
But isn’t National U also a rookie-laden squad?
Season 82 was supposed to be the year for the Lady Bulldogs after their dismal 6th place S81 finish. The much-awaited roster elevation of the NU-Nazareth players that has ruled five of the last six UAAP high school tournaments, was supposed to translate into the senior’s division crown.
However, the lockdown stopped this and so was the much awaited reload of the Sampaloc squad flew under the radar. This year, Anne Robles, Alyssa Solomon, Michaela Belen and Ivy Lacsina were finally unleashed, and all finished the first round belonging to the top 12 scoring list and combining for almost 15 points per set. That gives NU setter Camila Lamina the creative space with that deep pocket of passing options.
The result of that reload is scary. NU leads in all “advanced” stats after the first round and the contending teams are not even close. The Lady Bulldogs will not beat you with volume, they will outplay you with efficiency.
Like a machine.
Note: In volleyball, unlike in basketball, the absolute numbers mean a little. This is because the length of the game is not universal and is dependent on how many sets a player play. Example: Eya Laure of UST is considered the league’s top scorer, but UST also played a grand total of 28 sets. So she might be the highest scorer, but is she the “best” scorer in UAAP S84 volleyball?
Why are none of the NU players ever in the conversation of best somethings? It is because NU killed all opponents quickly and played only a total of 23 sets. Between Laure and the NU Lady Bulldogs, five additional sets could mean almost playing an extra game, at least.
So REKTIKANO.PH went into the primary indicator, the percentages.
WHAT ABOUT THE LADIES IN GREEN?
The DLSU Lady Spikers are getting there. The long lay-off and practically new lineup took a toll on team cohesion. Instead of having the time and ability to read opponents’ tendencies, our players are still learning to read each other’s moves. Scouting and preparing to play an opponent has somehow taken a back seat to learning to play with each other.
It’s not all bad. Recently, La Salle starting Mars Alba has been more creative and her spikers are responding. She’s learning to activate her teammates, from the powerful middle attacker in Fifi Sharma to her array of choices on both sides in Leiah Malaluan, Jolina dela Cruz, Thea Gagate and Leila Cruz.
Malaluan has been chalking up MVP-type numbers from the start and Gagate has been playing steady the past three games. Dela Cruz has been the stabilizing force while libero Dawn Macan… errrr…. Justine Jazareno has elevated into becoming the league’s third best receiver with an efficiency rating of 44.64%.
Although still in the process of growing and learning, this Lady Spikers is built to match, if not, beat the best along the net.
With many things up in the air and a 4-2 slate, these are two things we know.
The DLSU Lady Spikers will always be about winning championships – a winning tradition. Every team that counts rings will always have challenge themselves to belong in the title conversation.
Coach Ramil de Jesus, the Yoda of Philippine volleyball will figure things out. He always does.
Even if we are up against a team that seems to be playing in automatic mode.
Ivan Drago lost in the end, remember?
ANIMO LA SALLE!