Our first line may come as a shocker – THE DLSU LADY SPIKERS ARE UNDERDOGS IN THE FINAL FOUR MATCHUP AGAINST UST.
Squint again and the text won’t change.
Despite steamrolling through the elimination round with a 13-1 card, the Lady Spikers have struggled against UST in both rounds, even during the first-round five-set win.
REVISITING ROUND ONE: THE FIVE-SET THRILLER
It was the first game of the season for both teams. As La Salle super rookie Angel Canino said, “a lot of jelling to do” epitomized the preparedness of both squads.
UST torched the fumbling and still-cold La Salle squad to start the set 2-11 with the Lady Spikers giving up six points on errors alone. But as soon as Coach Noel Orcullo subbed in Leila Cruz for some vertical net defense, La Salle slashed a 2-11 deficit to just 4 at 8-12 .
And this is when the barely-scouted Canino killed the Tigeresses. At the 15-19 point of the first set, La Salle went to town against UST’s small frontline of the 5’8 Kecelyn Galdones and the 5’7 Regina Jurado manning the net.
The Lady Spikers started with a 5-0 run and took the lead for the first time at 20-19 before ending the set at 25-20.
UST took the second set easily and La Salle returned the favor in the third. The Espana team forced the final set with a 15-25 fourth-set win by outdoing La Salle on the stuff they should be dominating, attacks and blocks. UST won the battle of the spikes 9-15 and scored on block kills twice compared to zero from La Salle.
The final set became a battle of stamina and emotional maturity. Canino fired relentlessly from the flank and Thea Gagate did middle-quick-kills to power La Salle to an early 5-1 lead. But as soon as UST’s premiere spiker Eya Laure rotated to the front, the Tigresses came back to life to tie the score at 7-all.
From then on, it became a slugfest. Each team tried to knock out the other but could not find the groove to make a run and dragged each other into a deep night at 14-all.
The Lady Spikers escaped with two miscues from UST, a service error, and an overcooked crosscourt attack by Laure.
THE LENTEN NIGHTMARE – SECOND ROUND
The crowd from both universities knew it – it would be a battle of the season heavyweights that attracted 16,254 fans in the arena.
UST sporting a 5-2 card was going for streak bUSTer 2.0 with the sole intention of blemishing La Salle’s immaculate slate, a team that would be playing the rest of the season minus their starting hitter and defensive gem, Leila Cruz.
And without the vertical presence of Cruz, UST’s Laure and Melina Alessandrini attacked the side that had a smaller defender. From crosscourt kills to easy drops, the La Salle floor defense had not fully adjusted to a line-up without their key wing defender.
From the first set, the Lady Spikers looked vulnerable with UST attacking at will and finding all sorts of gaps in DLSU’s net defense and cracks on the floor. UST took set 1, 19-25, and used the same tempo to snatch the third set 18-25.
By the beginning of the fourth and final set, it was clear that the problem was more strategic than tactical. A problem so big that in-game adjustment would not hack it.
The Lady Spikers trailed 10-20 and yielded their first loss 12-25.
The Tigresses seemed to play better against La Salle. They would sleepwalk against weak teams and wake up against upper-tier opponents.
That is why they are called the streak bUSTers. They get adrenaline from busting winning runs.
But for now, let’s talk quick numbers.
UST’s Season 85 average for kills is only 46 per outing and they scored 63 in their round two match-up against the greens.
On the other side, La Salle has not solved the UST defensive puzzle scoring only 27% of their spike attempts, compared to their season hit rate of 34%. And La Salle without Leila Cruz had only six blocks in round two and saw their reception numbers deflate to 28.75%. A far cry from their 37.29% norm.
UST is a gung-ho attacking team. Together with Adamson and FEU, these top three attack -heavy teams of Season 85 have that aggressive mindset of spiking at every chance and from every angle.
And it is not a coincidence that La Salle went into a heavy battle against Adamson and FEU before pulling off the W.
ARE THE LADY SPIKERS FAVORITES?
The DLSU Lady Spikers are far from being heavy favorites despite riding the tide of their 13-1 record. On the other end, UST does not have La Salle’s number despite their dominant win in the second round. It was a huge gap that the Lady Spikers could not fill, that UST played took full advantage of.
But La Salle has seemingly bridged that gap with the emergence of Shevana Laput as a reliable two-way player and the returning Alleiah Malaluan. Laput has proven to be a good fit for the Gagate – Sharma middle combo and the Canino-Dela Cruz wing rotation so far.
Whether that side of the defensive gap has been filled against an offensively deadly opponent like UST remains to be seen. Most of Laput’s game were against non-Final Four teams and Malaluan only returned in our last game against UE.
Moreover, control of tempo and playing with managed pace would be crucial in putting the Tigresses to bed. A higher level of aggression to prevent UST in getting Eya Laure going would be a critical piece. Because an amped-up Laure opens the floor up for Alessandrini and Iya Hernandez, two deadly one-on-one hitters. This will be a problem for a team whose defensive design is predicated on close collaboration.
But here is what we can control – effort.
The DLSU Lady Spikers will have to meet urgency with urgency if they want to march into the finals. Any set of the Lady Zombie Spikers will be deadly for the green and white team’s drive to the finals.
Every possession will matter. Every ounce of effort is needed. PLAY LIKE UNDERDOGS. Embody hat ANIMO that we cheer endlessly.
All of this will be critical on Wednesday as we begin the last phase to fulfill this redemption journey when we face UST at 1pm at the Big Dome for that finals slot.
ANIMO LA SALLE!
ANIMO LADY SPIKERS!!!