Lady Spikers, determined to retain championship crown

The departure of UAAP’s volleyball stars DLSU’s Jacq Alarca and Stephanie Mercado, UST’s Aiza Maizo and Adamson’s Angela Benting, seems to have made the 74th Season of the women’s volleyball a few stars duller.

Teams, however, are beefing up their line-ups, making it more difficult for Lady Spikers Head Coach Ramil de Jesus to achieve another repeat, which he failed to achieve two years ago.

Coach de Jesus assures, “We do not practice for second. We are always after the championship.”

Pre-season rehearsals

Despite calling off a hand-full of pre-season match-ups, the Green-and-White volleybelles bagged a preseason crown at the 2011 Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF) Intercollegiate Championship, using their potential UAAP Season 74 line-up.

Cha Cruz's attack gets past FEU blockers in their match during the PVF
Cha Cruz's attack gets past FEU blockers in their match during the PVF. Photo by Andrew Pamorada

The UAAP defending champions also played true to form as they finished second in the recent PVF National Open, against volleyball powerhouses, Indonesia National team and the Philippine National team.

Team Captain Cha Cruz and the rest of the squad stunned the reshuffled National line-up composed of former UAAP and NCAA stars at 28-26, 26-24, 23-25, 25-21 in the semis, before bowing down to the Indonesian Nationals in the title showdown.

Even though the Indons in three sets, swept them, 19-25, 15-25, 20-25, the Taft-based squad learned new tricks in blocking and right spacing. Coach Ramil is finding ways to model his own system with the Indons’.

“Their system is different from the usual volleyball system in the country. That is why we lost. If we get used to that kind of system, we will be a team to be reckoned with.” he said.

The Taft-based Spikers also had international exposure and competitive scrimmages in the first Bahrain-Philippines Women’s Volleyball Friendship Games. The Lady Spikers competed with Bahrain’s women’s national volleyball twice last Nov. 4 and 5 at Juffair Dome.

10-player rotation

The team has 17 players, currently training under the coaching staff.  Five are fresh recruits while the rest already have UAAP experience. The maximum number of players in the UAAP is 14 so the coaching staff will undergo the necessary roster decision prior to the start of the 2nd half of the UAAP season.

The default number of player rotation would be 10. But, all 14 players might be given playing time depending on the opponent team, and its style of play.

Rookie class of 2011

With two of its starting six, Alarca and Mercado, due to graduate soon, a repeat will not be easy.

The coaching staff’s recruitments, however, managed to acquire potential rookies to fill in the shoes left by last year’s MVP, Best Scorer and Best Server Alarca and open hitter Mercado.

Expected to take the middle spot is Mika Aereen Reyes, towering at 5’11 across the court, this rookie from St. Scholasticas’ College has a knack for blocking, and is the next formidable center spiker after alumni Des Hernandez, Maureen Penetrante and Alarca.

Victonara “Ara” Galang from Angeles Foundation University is now being groomed for the open hitter spot; Galang is expected to contribute in the outside point production.

As for Paneng’s spot, they are expecting Galang to step up and fill in Mercado’s absence; this rookie is expected to contribute to the team and help DLSU maintain a competitive roster.

Other rookies include Hope Christian High School products like Cha Cruz’s sisters, twins Camille and Cienne, with the former crowned as UAAP beach volleyball’s Rookie of the Year.

Return of the main cast

Virtually rising from the last year’s bench to become the next blocking machine, reigning UAAP Best Blocker Michelle Gumabao is again vital to the Lady Spikers trademark net offense and defense.  As a utility spiker, Gumabao will complement the setter’s role while maintaining a competitive edge over the net.

Third year Abigail Maraño’s signature running spikes and cat-quick kills will likely head the offense from the middle, combined with last season’s top rookie Mika Espanza’s precision sets and aggressive playmaking skills.

This season, Cha Cruz is playing her last year. Cruz will be playing an important role of being the veteran and leader of the team.

Back-up crew

This year’s second stringers Lady Spikers should also provide relief to the first six. A deep bench and solid substitutes are essential to a championship team.

Sophomore Den-den Tan and DLSU-Dasmariñas transferee Jen Wensh Tiu can play the open and utility spots if necessary.

Back-stage difficulties and challenges

From a team of veterans, the Lady Spikers collapsed to a relatively young squad. Most of its players do not have experience, bouncing back from defeat is a potential issue.

While Galang’s open spikes are UAAP-ready, her adjustments to sets and variations need improvement. Reyes, on the other hand, tends to commit many net violations and has yet to find the perfect rhythm for middle plays.

Another crucial aspect of the Green-and-White Spikers is service. While Cruz can play in any position, her service inconsistency can affect the team play.

Final four predictions

On the previous season, Lady Spikers’ contenders for the championship title were the University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila University and Adamson University, which finished first, second, and third runners-up, respectively. According to Coach Ramil, these teams will remain their big competitors in retaining DLSU’s championship crown this season.

“I think aside from us, UST, Ateneo and Adamson University will complete the Final Four, but we will keep a close eye on UST since we could not scout them,” Coach Ramil noted.

The Lady Spikers gained a cumulative 13-1 win-lose card in the tournament last season, while the Lady Tigresses, Lady Eagles and Lady Falcons finished with 10-4, 9-5, and 8-6, respectively.

DLSU is still eyeing for a championship despite being a young team. Coach Ramil said that the team is still a work in progress, but he believes that they have a good chance of bringing home the bacon once again.

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