Before I begin, let me just say that you guys following me (@NoelZarate) on Twitter® are really uber-fanatical about volleyball, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. I post a simple question on the scope you had in mind for this piece and immediately I receive dozens of responses—many of them truly on point. I hope to be able to squeeze as much of them as I can here in this two-part thingy.
But let me just start by saying it was quite a sight to watch a volleyball game played at the Araneta Coliseum using the regulation flooring provided by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). I had never seen that in the Big Dome before. It looked majestic to have no basketball paraphernalia there and still droves came in to witness a sporting event. I know it happens a lot in boxing but it just looked majestic, especially on television. Volleyball’s time has final come.
It was a pair of matches in the Final Four that many expected would carry a certain outcome, and for the most part they were right: De La Salle University (DLSU) and the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) trounced their respective assignments to arrange their second duel for the UAAP Women’s Volleyball championship which happens on March 2, still at Araneta. Now before we begin predicting what kind of attendance records will be broken this Saturday, let’s review how those match-ups went and how this sets up the distaff battle royale.
(1) DLSU 25 25 25
(4) NU 18 23 18
DLSU: V. Galang—15 pts. (14/38 attacks), M. Reyes—14 pts (12/20 attacks)
NU: A. Santiago—19 pts (16/34 attacks, 3/14 blocks), C. Aganon—8 pts (6/17 attacks)
Lady Spikers advance to 5th straight championship series
As I foretold, the Lady Bulldogs were going to be road kill against the Lady Spikers. Yes, NU made the second set interesting, but DLSU just diffused whatever threat was placed before them through poise and just plain experience. Looking at the numbers, reigning Rookie of the Year Ara Galang had more attack attempts (33) than NU’s total attack points (30, team) which just goes to show the aggression the former Angeles University Foundation lass unleashed on the opposition. Mika Reyes—La Salle’s primary source of block points—wasn’t even needed on that front as she just went ballistic on offense and even edged Galang for Player of the Game honors. In fact, DLSU had a total of only six block points—a season low.
NU’s offense (OK, their entire game-plan) was anchored on Din-Din Santiago. Her 19 points could only be supported by Mina Aganon’s eight. Melissa Gohing won the libero battle as well; outdueling superstar Jen Reyes (7-6 in excellent digs) and Mika Esperanza just dominated in setting numbers against the tag-team of Ivy Perez and Precious Salibad. The biggest let-down for the Lady Bulldogs was the total absence of scoring sorties from ultra-senior Cai Nepomuceno who had erupted for 23 markers against the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the knockout playoff, but could only produce four points in the most crucial tiff of the season.
The Lady Bulldogs have nothing to be ashamed off in what they have achieved this campaign. This was their first ever Final Four appearance. Their 8-6 card was a massive turnaround from their 7th best 2-12 slate last season. They eliminated perennial semi-finalist UST and indirectly derailed their bid for another General Championship (DLSU captured that title for the first time in its UAAP participation and first since the 1980-81 NCAA tournament) as well as force the Tigresses out of the Final Four for the first time since the 2001-02 season. However, as I indicated in a previous article, Reyes and Nepomuceno have played their last matches in an NU uniform (save for the upcoming Shakey’s V-League) and now Head Coach Francis Vicente has to begin the arduous task of reinforcing his new core with more foundation for the future. The NU volleyball program, however, has never been better.The Lady Spikers enter their 5th consecutive title series (Photo: Kevin de la Cruz/Rivals.ph)
(2) AdMU 25 25 26
(3) AdU 23 23 24
AdMU: A. Valdez—22 pts (20/65 attacks, 2/9 blocks), A. Gervacio—10 pts
AdU: P. Soriano—17 pts (12/41 attacks, 5/25 blocks), S. Pineda—9 pts (9/36 attacks)
Lady Eagles advance to 2nd straight championship series
This was the pairing I thought would go to a second game. Not to take anything away from the Katipuneras, but Adamson was playing brilliant volleyball of late and Sheila Pineda’s second round production was on a crescendo. Pau Soriano has been on a blistering tear and supporting players Mayette Zapanta and May Macatuno have been contributing heavily to the maiden voyage of rookie Head Coach Sherwin Meneses.
But somehow, the Lady Falcons just couldn’t soar.
Every set was close. It became a question of hunger and the Ateneans responded like a peptic ulcer. Alyssa Valdez was her usual aggressive and possessed self but the 65 attack attempts showed the kind of willingness to carry the entire load and she indeed kept the Adamson defenses quite busy en route to a game-high 22 points. Fille Cainglet did not need to compliment Valdez too much offensively as her eight points came at some of the most crucial junctures of the match while skipper Dzi Gervacio also churned double-figures with timely hits that seemed like gut-shots to the hard-fighting Lady Falcons. The unseen stat-line of the game was the remarkable efficiency provided by Jem Ferrer on the Lady Eagles’ setting department as she just outclassed Macatuno 36/120 excellent sets to 18/108. Although Pineda and Zapanta chipped-in admirably, their numbers could have been bolstered by better distribution from Macatuno. That is indirectly attached to the reception war which was taken convincingly by Ateneo libero Den-Den Lazaro (9/30 excellent receptions) over Adamson’s Princess Listana (6/31).
The big surprise was actually injected by Lady Eagles’ Head Coach Roger Gorayeb even before the first serve, starting a COMPLETE Fab Five. Yes, Aillysse Nacachi got the rare start alongside her batchmates sans Marge Tejada and delivered five quality points; two of them on blocks. Nacachi was actually such a game-changer that she started all three sets and it apparently threw the Lady Falcons off, but then again I did mention previously that Gorayeb is a master tactician.
This now sets up the dream-scenario; the match-up that may rewrite the history books and one that will officially mark the renaissance of the sport: La Salle versus Ateneo in a best-of-three affair for the UAAP Season 75 Women’s Volleyball crown.
Swamis will say that the Lady Spikers are invincible and this New Legion of Doom will skin the Lady Eagles alive. Some will offer that DLSU is playing with too much pressure on their shoulders to massacre Ateneo that this overzealousness might be the key to their own undoing.
Well, volleyball freaks, you and I have almost a full week to breakdown the impending clash and when I return, I will have already collated all the statistics from their Season 74 series and their encounters this year, see how the Cainglet factor may play into this and how the sidebar race for the MVP plum between reigning queen Abigail Maraño and upstart wunderkind “Baldo” may play a part in determining the winner of the series.
It will be an interesting discourse; looking at the libero match-up, DLSU’s vaunted defense against AdMU’s prolific offense, bench depth and how the coaches and general team mindsets become intriguing aspects of this upcoming rivalry for the ages.
Be sure to catch Part two soon.
Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @NoelZarate