After the victory over the Adamson Lady Falcons, Head Coach Ramil De Jesus said he wanted his squad to surprise rivals Ateneo De Manila University Lady Eagles anew in the second round. And surprise them they did as the Lady Spikers sent the Katipunan crew crashing back to Earth with a straight-sets beatdown.
Prior to the match, most fans (including me) anticipated a nip-and-tuck affair, but we were treated to a shocker, too. Standing at the front corner of the isle side-court, I expected a different Ateneo squad simply because they have long been wanting to exact revenge on DLSU – the team which they have not beaten since the second round of Season 79. It felt like it at the start. However, the brilliance of Coach RDJ and his staff was again on full display as the Lady Spikers shut their arch-nemeses down convincingly with their tricks.
La Salle showcased a masterful performance, removing doubts on the capabilities of the team winning its fourth consecutive title this year. The win over ADMU sent a warning to the rest of the league that DLSU is peaking just at the right time. No matter how bad they looked with their losses, the crown still sits in Taft. Perhaps, the Lady Spikers have now activated their championship mode?
The volleybelles in Green started with the most effective strategy that they have been using against the Lady Eagles: challenging their floor defense. Ateneo has vastly improved with its digging (currently at #4) and reception (#2), but La Salle still put them to the test. In the early moments of the first set, the Lady Eagles kept in-step with the defending champs. La Salle’s mentor could not wait any longer, so he pulled off one of his tricks immediately. May Luna checked in for Tin Tiamzon. Game changer. The fiery outside hitter caught the blue side off guard with her jump float serves. One of the sharpest of its kind I have ever seen. From my position at the Araneta Coliseum, that volleyball really looked like an arrow daggered to the heart. It was fast. You know it’s coming at you, but you just do not when and how fast it would strike down. From there began the destruction of Ateneo as Luna made a living at the service line. Most of her serves were not necessarily converted to aces, but they ruined the Lady Eagles first ball, hence the few chances to attack for ADMU. The Green and White had 8 service aces compared to Ateneo’s 3. La Salle also dominated the attacking department, 37-27. It is also important to note that the reigning champs limited their foes to only 3 attack points in the second set (25-13). A dismal performance to say the least for the second-best spiking team in the league.
Another bright spot for DLSU was Michelle Cobb’s setting. Her playmaking took away Ateneo’s main weapon: blocking. The Lady Eagles’ walls were non-existent, ending up with 0 kill block. On offense, Cobb made her middles and outside hitters work. She pressed the right buttons to counter ADMU’s defense. The only glaring stat is that the third-year setter only tallied 16 excellent sets, while her counterpart Deanna Wong had 21. The St. Scholastica alum’s decision-making paved the way for her spikers to be confident with their attacks. When the Lady Eagles established their blocking, the Lady Spikers would go for cut shots and long balls. When the opponents were a step slower on defense, then it was an opportunity for heavy hits. Heading into this game, La Salle’s spiking was a primary concern. However, thanks to Cobb’s magic, towers Des Clemente and Aduke Ogunsanya were able to punish from the middle, while the outside hitters especially Jolina Dela Cruz, kept the other side guessing.
On defense, it is still amazing how DLSU quickly turned things around. The net and floor defenses of the Lady Spikers were inconsistent coming into this game. However, they just flipped the switch against the Lady Eagles and reminded everyone who the best defensive team really is. Coach De Jesus’ crew built an impenetrable wall, posting 6 kill blocks. The team had lesser excellent receptions and digs, but that’s because of Ateneo’s disrupted offense, leading to multiple chance balls throughout the match. Much of the credit should also be given to CJ Saga who played her best game for La Salle this season. Saga is no Dawn Macandili (there will never be another Dawn and she admits that), but she got the job done. DLSU’s defensive ace played with a chip on her shoulder, and she stepped up with the rest of the team.
La Salle knows how to beat Ateneo. The Lady Spikers have been giving the Lady Eagles riddles that they still could not answer. The Taft squad’s mentor proved once again that he could mold his team to its best form, no matter the personnel he has. It’s just sticking to what has been working for the past three years, while also adding “surprises” here and there. Just like that, La Salle is back to its championship form and a 10-game winning streak was snapped. Coach Ramil revealed to us his magic, and we hope to see more along the way. Two games left in the eliminations and there is no holding back en route to that elusive four-peat.
DLSU’s last two assignments in the eliminations will be against UE and FEU on April 24 and 28, respectively.