After a gallant run that fell just short of claiming the title last year against the NU Lady Bulldogs, the DLSU Lady Archers are gearing up for glory this coming UAAP season. Despite an excellent 11-3 record in the elimination round, the Lady Bulldogs were just too much for La Salle to handle. DLSU surprised NU with a closely contested Game One in the finals with a losing deficit of just three. However, the Lasallians failed to replicate their performance in the succeeding game in which the undefeated Lady Bulldogs easily cruised to their third straight championship. This year, the Lady Archers will be looking to use last year’s defeat as added motivation to win it all in Season 80.
The Lady Archers will have to endure some growing pains as they try to adjust to the changes in the lineup this year after losing outgoing forward Snow Penaranda, Kathy Gonzales, Pau Vela, Jamie Roxas, and point guard Camille Claro. Penaranda averaged 11.0 points and 9.9 rebounds last season while Claro, who will be unable to play due to an ACL injury, had 3.7 assists per game along with her 12.6 scoring average. Claro will be utilizing her last playing year next season after she recovers from her injury. Both Penaranda and Claro were key pieces in La Salle’s system and with their absences, players will have to step up. Despite losing a number of veterans, however, coach Cholo Villanueva remains confident in his squad. Villanueva looks to apply changes in his offense and maintain good pressure defense against opposing ball handlers.
“I have new guys, especially the big guys, I have young big guys now so we changed the offense a bit, to a more open offense because we lost Snow [Penaranda] and we lost Jamie [Roxas],” Villanueva explained.
Veterans Johanna Arciga, Khate Castillo, and team captain Marga Dagdagan will be vital in their roles and are expected to display leadership for the team. Whereas Kat Nunez will fill in for the injured Claro as the starting point guard for Villanueva.
Although the Lady Archers have been continuously improving, the road to redemption will not be easy with most of the other teams’ emerging growth and with NU’s intact roster. The Lady Bulldogs currently have a 47-game winning streak, a feat they started in 2014. However, Villanueva’s biggest concern is the maturity of his players playing in front of a huge crowd and having to deal with the pressure.
“I think it’s more of the mental approach to the game that I’m worried about and also, I have young bigs so they’re the last line of defense, they’re very important to me, so I’m worried about how they would react in a UAAP competition,” said Villanueva.
Hopes and expectations
Given the number of changes and a young team, Villanueva seeks to instill grit and mental toughness to the Lady Archers. “We don’t quit, we don’t stop playing, if you make a mistake, you move on to the next play, and then always winning on the small details of the game, like boxing out, denying, contesting, giving a good screen.”
As for Castillo, who will be relied upon to score many of the team’s points, she reminds her teammates not to be afraid of mistakes and to have mutual trust in one another. “Maging kumpiyansa sila sa galaw nila, sa tira nila. Go with the flow lang, tuloy-tuloy lang, ilaro lang nila,” said the veteran. “Sobrang nag pre–prepare kami, siyempre gusto namin bumawi. Nasa utak namin, na gusto namin makarating ng Finals and manalo ng championship,” she added further.
(Become confident in your moves and your shots. Go with the flow, just continue, and play. We really prepared so of course we want to bounce back. In our minds, we want to reach the Finals and win the championship)
Having to endure vigorous training and endless preparations, the Lady Archers will look to take each game one at a time as they strive to return to the Final Four. The entire team emphasizes the importance of not looking too far ahead and just winning every game in front of them. A big roadblock, though, will be NU and their long going dominance. For Villanueva, however, he will try to pass on the knowledge he gained from ending the winning streak of the UE Red Warriors, back when he was playing in 2007.
“Yeah, hopefully, it’s not impossible. If we were able to achieve that, I think I can use my experiences on how to do that, here in the women’s division, for us against NU, against their winning streak.”
The DLSU Lady Archers will square off with the FEU Lady Tamaraws to kick off their season on Sunday, September 10, at 10 am at the Mall of Asia Arena.