Written by Neal Tieng
The finish line for the elimination round is within sight, and just as they have done in past seasons the De La Salle Lady Spikers are starting this season’s mad run for the title.
After finishing the first round with a 5-2 card, La Salle suffered yet another setback against the UP Lady Maroons, who seemed to have the Lady Spikers’ number since the first round. The loss raised questions about whether the Lady Spikers were on dangerously thin ice regarding their chase of that twice-to-beat incentive in the Final Four.
But their last few games provided a resounding answer – it turns out that all that swag was backed up by mean grit, determination, and a strong game to back it all up.
After that last disappointing loss, La Salle bounced back with a straight set victory against National U, an emphatic revenge win over the 3rd running UST Tigresses in four sets, before disposing of Adamson in straight sets.
However, the 10-game winning streak of frontrunner Ateneo cast a shadow over the growing optimism. Ateneo had not lost since La Salle grounded the Lady Eagles on opening day, and had found ways to win in games which they could easily have lost in straight sets.
Coach Ramil De Jesus knew only too well that the Lady Eagles would be a different team as they notched league-leading numbers in blocks and kills.
What the coach preached, the Lady Spikers took those to heart and carried onto the court.
In a usual De La Salle Lady Spikers’ understated manner, the cohesive green and white volleyball team swept the Ateneo Lady Eagles in straight sets 25-17, 25-13, 25-23 last April 13, 2019 at the Araneta Coliseum with the Lady Spikers putting up a clinic on how to ruin one’s offense through their defensive weakness.
All afternoon, La Salle pummeled Ateneo’s weak service reception while Michelle Cobb masterfully rotated the ball to attackers beyond the tall reach of the blue blockers to win the battle on the net. She executed the game plan to perfection, turning the Lady Eagles’ greatest strength – their blocking, into a weakness as she kept the blue blockers guessing as to where the attack would come from. Unable to correctly predict the source of the attacks, the tournament blocking leaders laid a big fat EGG in the kill blocks category. Long balls, delicate drops shots, half-tempo middle quicks, the green offense kept the opposing net blockers guessing all afternoon.
On defense, the traditional Lady Spiker made its presence felt. Good pre-game scouting allowed our frontliners to properly position themselves to stop the Ateneo attacks to the tune of 6 kill blocks while blunting the power of the blue spikers. The floor defense, on the other hand, showed its prowess with accurate coverage of the areas usually targeted by the Lady Eagles. Following the mantra of past years, the Lady Spikers refused to let the ball drop on the court, chasing all balls within reach and retrieving most of them for out attackers to attack.
With this strategy in full execution, La Salle seemed to be unstoppable.
It didn’t look that way at first, as the game started out neck-and-neck. With the score at 14-13 in the first set, Coach Ramil made a golden substitution putting in May Luna for Tin Tiamzon. As soon as Luna on the floor, the Lady Spikers unleashed a 9-1 attack riding on the back of Luna’s three service aces and two attack points from the back row to push La Salle to a 23-14 lead before finishing it off with an attack by super rookie Jolina Dela Cruz to snatch the first set 25-17.
The steam coming from the late first set run spilled over to the second as La Salle as Dela Cruz and Luna got some help from the middle from Aduke Ogunsanya ripping Ateneo 13-4 early in the second phase.
That run snuffed out any resistance of the Lady Eagles in the set, which ended up with La Salle owning set 2, 25-13.
As the third set rolled on, the end looked like a foregone conclusion as the Lady Spikers continued to dominate the 3rd set leading 16-11. But like any team that had nothing to lose, Ateneo fought back desperately to threaten. Deep into the set, at 22-21, Ateneo made a crucial error on the net with an over-reaching violation while Cobb was setting that gave La Salle a 23-21 breathing room.
Ateneo’s Ponggay Gaston quickly brought the lead down to one with an attack off the block to push the set to the flashpoint at 23-22. Captain Des Cheng faked Ateneo’s Deana Wong into a crucial net error before a service error by Des Clemente pushed the game into their final match point at 24-23. When the team needing a closer, Ogunsanya answered the call and hammered home a runner to close out the game 25-23 to punch their Final Four ticket for Season 81.
La Salle will face the UE Lady Warriors on Wednesday at 2pm at the Flying and will round up the regular season with a showdown against FEU on April 28 with the Lady Spikers needing to win both games to avoid complications for the twice-to-beat slot in the Final Four.
ANIMO LA SALLE!