“Yung mindset lang namin this year is yung mabalik ang championship sa La Salle,” new team captain Alyanna Ong said.
UAAP Season 78 marks the beginning of a new era for the DLSU Lady Archers as they try to bounce back from a surprising third-place finish last season. This year, the squad will look significantly different with all of the starters from Season 77 already graduating. On top of that, a former Green Archer in Cholo Villanueva will head the coaching staff for the first time, replacing long-time coach Tyrone Bautista.
The Lady Archers played excellent basketball throughout the elimination round last season. They finished with a 10-4 record, good enough for the second spot in the tournament behind the undefeated NU Lady Bulldogs, who swept all of their games. With a veteran cast, many believed that La Salle had a good chance of repeating as champions.
However, despite holding a twice-to-beat advantage over the third-seeded FEU Tamaraws, they lost both games by very narrow margins. They would lose by a point, 81-80, in what would turn out to be their final game of the season. Later on, the Tamaraws would go on to lose the finals against the Lady Bulldogs.
The team bid farewell to many of their key players, all of whom played out their eligibility. Players such as team captain Miller Ong, guards Trisha Piatos and Jonah Melendres, as well as inside players Cass Santos, Nicole Garcia, and Inna Corcuera all saw their last year with the team cut short.
The graduation of six players means that a new nucleus is set to take over the team. With a whole bunch of rookies entering the fray, while very much skilled and talented, they still have a long way to go before matching the production of the players they are set to replace.
“It’s the environment for the rookies kasi they’re not used to the UAAP fire. Yung adjustment na yun, there’s always a transition period, even for some of the veterans who are not used to playing in the UAAP. Before they had minimal roles with the team. Pero ngayon they’ll play a major role sa team namin,” mentions the newly installed coach.
Ong adds that their off-season preparations weren’t exactly rigorous since they didn’t join any tournaments. Since the team is still adjusting to the new system and players, they opted for more casual games.
“Wala kasing tournaments for women this year dahil sa UAAP yata. Tapos bago yung coach namin so yung mga games namin, tune-up games lang. Tapos nakakalaban namin puro taga NCAA or high school na lalaki,” she said.
Now a bit shorter in the front court, Villanueva wants the team to make use of their quickness to their advantage. He wants his girls to outwork opponents for loose balls and rebounds, citing their good conditioning throughout the off-season.
“Maraming ball movement ngayon kasi feeling ko less talented kami so we really have to work as a team. We really have to do our best na ibigay lahat ng effort namin this year,” Ong says when she describes Villanueva’s system.
Both coach and captain agree that the team should not look too far ahead. They want their players to take it one game at a time and keep continuing to work hard during games and practice. In addition, they are both looking at last year’s finalists as the biggest hurdles for them this season.
“Of course, but we always think about it one game at a time. As long as they play the right way, as long as they believe in the system, we’ll get our goal, which is to get to the Final Four,” Villanueva remarked.
*This article has been edited to correct factual errors.