After a season of adversity, the DLSU Lady Spikers have successfully defended their championship and retained the title as the top team of the league. However, it was not an easy journey for the Green-and-White.
From losing a handful of key players prior to the season, to players struggling with inconsistency, the team from Taft has gone through much to keep the title. But DLSU was not to be underestimated. The Lady Spikers were able to remain on top of a league growing in terms of talent and finished strong when it mattered the most. The Lasallians swept their way from the Final Four onwards to give head coach Ramil De Jesus his 10th title and a perfect send-off for outgoing setter and team captain Kim Fajardo.
Strong wins and tough losses
The Lady Spikers opened their title defense with convincing three-set wins over the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the UST Golden Tigresses, but they suffered a shocking straight-set loss to the UP Lady Maroons. From there, the Lady Spikers coasted to three consecutive wins over the NU Lady Bulldogs, the AdU Lady Falcons, and the UE Lady Warriors. Their first-round finale with the ADMU Lady Eagles set the stage for what at that time was a possible preview of the finals, one that the Lady Eagles won in four sets, 26-24, 26-24, 21-25, 25-17.
In spite of two losses, the Lady Spikers recorded four straight-set victories, with one of these wins coming at the expense of the Lady Bulldogs, who were pegged as preseason title contenders. Kim Dy and Majoy Baron took turns in leading DLSU in scoring through the first round, and the team’s defense was performing well, since Dawn Macandili even managed to earn Player of the Game honors in La Salle’s win over the Lady Warriors.
Following their heavy defeat against ADMU to end the first round, the Lady Spikers were a team on a mission. They began the second round with a three-set rout of the FEU Lady Tamaraws, and a few games after, avenged their first-round loss against UP with a sweep, 27-25, 25-11, 25-17.
DLSU would then go on a six-game winning streak and appeared to be unstoppable, dropping only one set throughout their winning streak. Desiree Cheng and Tin Tiamzon were key contributors to the team, making their mark after lackluster performances in the first round.
Although momentum was on their side, La Salle’s pace was eventually halted by rival ADMU in the final game of the season. Despite a strong opening set, the Lady Spikers failed to contain the Lady Eagles, 12-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19. With the loss, the Green-and-White ended the elimination round in second place with a win-loss card of 11-3.
La Salle was only one win away from its eighth consecutive trip to the finals. However, standing in their way were the UST Growling Tigresses.
While DLSU swept its elimination round series with UST, the Golden Tigresses were still a force to be reckoned with. The team from Espana was able to keep up with the defending champions for majority of the game, but the Lady Spikers were too much to handle as the latter walked away with the win, 25-14, 25-20, 24-26, 25-13.
After the match, DLSU head coach Ramil De Jesus was not pleased with his players’ performance, emphasizing that his players have to focus more on themselves rather than their opponents. “Hindi pwede pumasok sa finals na ganoon yung mentality at focus natin.” (We shouldn’t enter the finals with that kind of mentality and focus.)
La Salle sweeps archrivals enroute to 10th crown
DLSU moved to within a game of clinching their second consecutive title when it took down ADMU in four sets, 21-25, 29-27, 25-22, 25-20. Tin Tiamzon led the Lady Spikers with 15 points and added eight excellent receptions in the win. ADMU’s Jho Maraguinot led all scorers with 16 points on 14 spikes.
It seemed as if the Lady Eagles were poised to take control of the game after winning the first set of Game 1, but La Salle buckled down, reduced its errors, and displayed the championship composure to rally and take the next three sets.
Prior to Game 2, several Lady Spikers were recognized as the league’s best individual performers. Libero Dawn Macandili, after finishing the eliminations with a reception efficiency of 50.17 per cent, was named the tournament’s Best Receiver and Fajardo was awarded the Best Setter and Best Server Award after averaging 11.28 excellent sets per frame and 0.76 service aces per set.
— The LaSallian (@TheLaSallian) May 6, 2017
UAAP Season 79’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award was entitled to MaJoy Baron, who put up outstanding numbers throughout the season, with 10.5 points per game, 0.74 kill blocks per set, 0.52 service aces per set, with an 38.03 percent success rate in attacks.
Game 2 would prove to be an instant classic as La Salle and ADMU went the distance, with the Lady Spikers claiming a 19-25, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10 win en route to another title. Finals MVP Desiree Cheng finished with 12 points, 12 excellent digs, and 13 excellent receptions, and made up for lost time after missing out the 2016 season with a knee injury. Michelle Morente led ADMU in a losing effort with 16 points.
It was an even matchup as both teams traded blows in the first four sets, but the Lady Spikers took a 7-2 lead in the fifth set they would never relinquish. The victory also allowed the team to give Fajardo, who finished the game with six points and 43 excellent sets, her third UAAP title.
Keeping in shape
The road to a three-straight titles may seem more difficult now that Fajardo and her setting prowess will be gone. However, De Jesus has gotten the up-and-coming Lady Spikers ready by plugging in first-year players during crucial moments throughout the season.
Setter Michelle Cobb, who will most likely be tasked with taking on starting setter’s role, played in crucial sets during the elimination round and the finals, even playing with Fajardo during Game 2 of the finals. Arriane Layug and sophomores May Luna and CJ Saga, who were among De Jesus’ main players off the bench, will be tasked with larger roles once Season 80 begins.
“Enjoyin ko muna ‘tong moment na ‘to bago ko mamroblema next year,” De Jesus said when asked about next season. (I’ll enjoy this moment first before worrying about next year’s problems.)
— The LaSallian (@TheLaSallian) May 6, 2017