UAAP: Lady Spikers take out Golden Tigresses in grudge match, earn Finals berth

In a heated affair that saw back-and-forth lead changes and deadlocks, the DLSU Lady Spikers emerged triumphant over the UST Golden Tigresses in four thrilling sets, 26-24, 25-22, 20-25, 25-19, in the UAAP Season 85 Final Four to claim a spot in the Finals earlier today, May 3, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Libero Justine Jazareno anchored the DLSU win with her defensive prowess, as she won the Player of the Game award with 22 digs and 16 receptions. Super rookie Angel Canino continued her dominant scoring display, as she led all scorers with 19 markers, while Veteran Jolina Dela Cruz and second-year player Alleiah Malaluan contributed 10 and nine points each. Middle blocker Thea Gagate secured the La Salle defense above the net, as she scored nine points, five of which were blocks.

UST mainstays Eya Laure and Imme Hernandez put their team on their backs, as they put up 15 and 12 points, respectively. Regina Jurado and Milena Alessandrini provided valuable support as they both scored eight points each.

Championship pedigree

Facing the challenge of conquering La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage, the Tigresses came out swinging, as two sharp attacks from opposite hitter Jurado gave UST the 3-0 lead. Not allowing the España-based hitters to gain the comfort of an early lead, the star-spiking duo of Canino and Dela Cruz challenged the Tigresses’ defense to edge closer, 4-3. The fourth-seeded squad looked to pick up steam, but several execution errors found them in a deadlock, 5-all. Both teams battled it out to gain a commanding lead, but alternating errors and attacks from both teams kept the set close.

The Tigresses ultimately leaned on the attacking of Jurado and Milena Alessandrini to edge out a 13-12 lead. Canino answered with a down-the-line attack toward zone one, but the match continued its see-saw nature as a Hernandez error forced another tie, 16-all. Shifting the momentum, a Canino ace and a smart hit from Fifi Sharma gave DLSU the lead, 18-16. 

Malaluan and Sharma sent attacks back at the Tigresses, but a sharp quick and an ace from Hernandez put the game in another deadlock, 20-all. A pair of Canino attacks together with a Shevana Laput service ace gave the Lady Spikers the set point, 24-22. Determined to save the set, Laure put the Tigresses on her back as she dominated the La Salle defense to force a 24-all tie. The Taft-based hitters remained undeterred as their frontline made sure to deny Laure’s attack to close the set out, 26-24.

Closing strong

After a silent first set, Dela Cruz made her presence felt in the second, scoring two straights to start the frame, 2-0. However, what would have been Dela Cruz’s third straight unanswered point was rescinded when UST Head Coach Kung Fu Reyes’s challenge overturned the initial call. Regardless, Dela Cruz continued her hot streak, scoring two more while Canino and Sharma also contributed as they headed into the first technical timeout with a 7-6 lead.

Off the timeout, Canino took the offensive reins from Dela Cruz, scoring on multiple attacks. UST, on the other hand, relied on a more varied approach, with multiple Tigresses contributing points. While the Lady Spikers’ offense continued to prevail, several uncharacteristic service errors from the Green and White kept the set within arm’s reach for UST. Canino scored on a spike that gave her team the lead, but a service error quickly evened the set once again, 17-all, heading into the final possessions.

The dynamic duo of Dela Cruz and Canino continued to scorch the UST defense in the closing moments of the set. However, an unexpected spike from Hernandez halted the snowballing momentum of the Lady Spikers. La Salle was finally able to lock in on their services, scoring two aces in a row by veteran presences Mars Alba and Dela Cruz. This time, it was the Golden Tigresses who struggled with their services, as Alessandrini gave the set away to the Lady Spikers, 25-22, with a service error.

Taking a toll

Still feeling their second set loss, the España-based squad remained error-prone in the early going of the third, gifting La Salle an early 4-1 lead. Towering over the opposition,  Gagate and Laput put points on the board to maintain their side’s cushion, 6-3. Not quitting, the Tigresses fought back with a scoring spree led by team captain Laure as they quickly turned the set around and gained a slim 8-7 lead into the first technical timeout of the third set.

As their opponents surged with confidence, the Lady Spikers were unable to help their case as several execution errors handed UST key points for their 16-4 run. Not liking his team’s performance during UST’s run, DLSU Head Coach Ramil de Jesus switched things up by injecting key bench pieces Soreño, Malaluan, and Coronel to realign his side’s attack in face of the UST run. With the team from España’s lead ballooning to 19-10 after a Malaluan service error, the set looked prime for the Tigresses’ taking. Unfazed, a resilient La Salle core stood strong as they tried to mount a comeback. Leaning on the excellent floor defense of the steady Jazareno, the Green and White challenged UST’s defense as the Tigresses began to string together several execution errors on their side. 

Showing their fight, de Jesus’ mixed player lineup cut the lead 22-20 after a Cassie Carballo attacking miscue. Not wanting the set to be their last for the season, Jurado and Hernandez outmaneuvered the La Salle defense as they successfully thwarted the comeback attempt, 25-20.

Taking care of business

La Salle carried their energy from their valiant fight back in the third set onto the fourth, as Malaluan and Gagate dominated the front line—going on a 4-1 run on their own. Canino remained consistent in her scoring, delivering a spike before a service error gave DLSU an 8-5 lead going into the first technical timeout.

Coming off the bench, Malaluan proved to be the x-factor for the Lady Spikers. Her timely return to the lineup allowed the sophomore star to immediately heat up and give La Salle their much-needed offense. Malaluan scored on three spikes in the ensuing 7-2 run by DLSU, which saw them take a commanding lead, 14-7. On the other hand, veteran Laure would answer the call for UST, going toe-to-toe against La Salle’s intimidating front line, scoring three straight points to shorten the deficit to three, 15-12.

In the final minutes of the set, the Lady Spikers turned once again to Canino to close out the game. Canino’s fast and heavy spikes were consistently scoring, and the few that were intercepted still kept the defenses constantly worried on their toes. This opened up the offense for other scorers such as Gagate and Malaluan, who skillfully capitalized on the defense’s increased attention on Canino. In the end, the trio succeeded in finishing off their tough and gritty opponents, 25-19, in the final set.

Redeeming themselves from their only loss this season, coach Noel Orcullo shared his enthusiasm and thoughts on the next stage of competition. “Happy, kasi nga naredeem namin yung pagkatalo namin ng second round. Tapos eto nasa finals na pero hindi pa tapos ‘to, mahaba pa. Kailangan pa namin ng training, improve pa, hanapin pa yung mga pagkukulang namin.” he said.

(I’m happy because we redeemed our second round loss. Now we are in the finals but it isn’t over yet, there is still a long way to go. We still need training, improvement, and finding for our shortcomings.)

Asked about their individual and team performances, Canino and Jazareno responded by mentioning how proud they are of the team, especially with all the challenges they faced and how they made sure to work hard and enjoy the game to grab the win. “Nag work hard kami and nagenjoy kami. Sobrang fulfilling siya, lalo na sa seniors namin,” Jazareno mentioned in her immediate post-game interview.

(We worked hard and enjoyed ourselves. The win was so fulfilling, especially for our seniors).

Securing their second-straight Finals berth, the Lady Spikers wait for their opponent from the winner of the matchup between the NU Lady Bulldogs and the Adamson Lady Falcons as they look to no longer be the bridesmaids of the Women’s Volleyball tournament. Should NU win, their finals rematch will commence at 4 pm on Sunday, May 7, at the same venue.

The Scores:

DLSU 3 – Canino 19, Dela Cruz 10, Gagate 9, Malaluan 9, Laput 8, Sharma 6, Alba 3, Coronel 1, Soreno 1 

UST 1 – Laure 15, Hernandez 12, Alessandrini 8, Jurado 8, Perdido 4, Torres 4, Abbu 3, Carballo 2, Penafiel 2 

Set Scores: 26-24, 25-22, 20-25, 25-19

Joaquin Constantino

By Joaquin Constantino

Julio Amir Tampis

By Julio Amir Tampis

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