UAAP: Lady Spikers take Game One of Finals versus NU, near UAAP 85 title

The DLSU Lady Spikers opened up the first game of the best-of-three series in the UAAP Season 85 Women’s Volleyball Tournament Finals with a grueling victory against the defending champions NU Lady Bulldogs in five sets, 18-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13, earlier tonight, May 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. 

For the Green and White, super rookie Angel Canino garnered the Player of the Game award with 19 attacks, two service aces, and 14 excellent receptions. Also tallying double-digits, Thea Gagate contributed 12 spikes and four blocks. Echoing her teammates’ performance was rookie Shev Laput, who recorded seven points. 

In a hard-fought loss, Alyssa Solomon led the Lady Bulldogs in the scoreboard with 28 points and two blocks. Bella Belen also tallied double-digits with 22 points and 14 excellent receptions. 

Rocky start

As the top two seeds in the Women’s Volleyball Tournament, DLSU and NU kicked off their battle for the title in explosive fashion. After a stellar outing by Laput in the previous match against UST, the towering hitter wasted no time putting herself on the scoreboard with two quick points off an attack and a block. However, Lady Bulldog Solomon halted a possible early run by the Green and White by tallying three scores in a row—including two service aces. The score was tied, 4-all, but errors from the Lady Spikers shifted the momentum to their opponent, going to the huddle for the first technical timeout with a three-point deficit, 8-5. 

After winning a challenge, the Spikers were unable to answer a barrage of attacks from the Bulldogs. The defensive lapses from La Salle, especially with the lack of coverage from the backline on multiple occasions, became a tough pill for the first-placers. The team from Taft’s frontline also proved no match for Solomon, who continued her hot start to the Finals by putting out vicious spikes. Between the two technical timeouts in the opening set, the Lady Spikers were first outscored by the defending champions at 8-2, as they returned to regroup while down, 16-8. 

When the score reached 18-11, Lady Spikers Head Coach Ramil De Jesus made significant substitutions, hoping to light a spark for a possible comeback. However, the Lady Spikers failed to execute, as NU had answers upon answers for every La Salle score. DLSU concluded the set unable to overcome a seven-point deficit, falling to the Bulldogs, 25-18.

Adjusting to the pressure 

After a lackluster performance in the opening set, the DLSU Lady Spikers managed to adjust their plays as a service ace from Jolina Dela Cruz cut the lead down to one, 4-3. This was followed by Gagate, who smashed an over received ball to immediately tie the match at 4-all. Afterward, Alleiah Malaluan’s service ace gave DLSU an early advantage heading into the first technical timeout of the second set, 8-6. 

Coming from the break, a drop ball from NU’s Erin Pangilinan cut the gap down to one, 10-9. Despite the Green and White having an early lead, Camila Lamina’s crucial service ace tied the game at 12-all. However, middle blocker Gagate managed to squeeze in a quick attack—DLSU was now leading by two, 15-13. A sloppy error from Gagate put NU in the lead heading into the second technical timeout, 16-15.

In an attempt to recover from their errors, Malaluan retaliated by converting back-to-back points and taking the lead, 17-16. Keeping their splendid momentum, Amie Provido shut down an attack from NU—building a sizable lead toward the end of the second set, 20-18. The Green and White adjusted their offensive plays as Gagate tallied back-to-back points, 23-21. This was echoed by Canino, who avoided blockers and made cross-court targets, putting DLSU at set point, 24-22. To end their play on a high note, Malaluan converted an over-received ball to claim the second set, 25-22.

Close comeback

After capping off an excellent second set, DLSU looked to continue their momentum as they were on the verge of shifting gears. The third set opened with Mars Alba’s service ace, instilling hope in the hearts of La Salle’s fans. However, this was immediately followed by five straight points by NU, courtesy of Pangilinan and Belen. The sudden meltdown prompted De Jesus to call an early timeout in an attempt to stop the Bulldogs’ run, trailing 5-1. The set also featured two long, intense rallies between Canino and the defending champions’ defense, with the latter showcasing top-notch coverage. The super rookie managed to prevail in both battles despite multiple receptions from the other side, but the Green and White still had lots of chipping to do, 11-5.

NU’s lead increased with their attacks, while the Lady Spikers piled up their errors. The set then saw a score reminiscent of the opening bout, 18-11. Not backing down from the fight, the Taft-based team went back-and-forth with their rivals, keeping the game as close as possible. Once the score reached 20-14, DLSU showed life with a 3-0 run, reducing the Bulldogs’ lead to just three after falling behind by as much as eight, 20-17.

Despite their efforts, the top-seeders failed in their attempt to make a comeback, 25-22. However, the showcase of will was admirable in itself as La Salle headed forward with the challenge to make an even bigger comeback after falling behind the Bulldogs, two sets to one.

Forcing a tough decider 

With high hopes of recovering from their loss from the previous set, the Green and White kept their momentum alive as Canino made back-to-back service aces, 5-3. An attack error from the side of NU, which was followed by a crucial service ace from Gagate extended the lead for the Taft-based team by four heading into the first technical timeout of the fourth set, 8-4. 

Fresh off the bench, Fifi Sharma’s quick attack ended a grueling rally from both teams, 10-5. However, Vange Alinsug squeezed in a cross-court attack, 11-8. Then, Canino answered back as she unleashed back-to-back explosive hits that were too much for NU to handle, creating a five-point advantage for La Salle, 13-8. Maintaining her excellent offensive prowess, Canino smashed an over-received ball that rattled NU’s defense by tallying consecutive points, 15-10. A crucial service ace from team captain Alba propelled the Taft-based squad to the second technical timeout of the fourth set with a six point lead, 16-10. 

After the break, La Salle struggled in their reception as a crucial error from Laput cut down the gap to four, 17-13. The Taft Towers then made a monster block against Belen, which gave them a sizable lead toward the late half of the set, 20-15. Veteran spiker Dela Cruz made her presence known by blocking another attack from the Lady Bulldogs, 21-16. Afterward, rookie Canino fired a cross-court attack that widened the gap to four—putting DLSU a few inches away from extending the match to five sets, 23-20. To keep the exceptional momentum on La Salle’s side, Gagate blocked a drop ball from Solomon, which put the Lady Spikers at set point, 24-20. To end the fourth set on a good note, Belen’s attack went long which now extended the match to five sets, 25-21. This kept the hopes of the DLSU Lady Spikers alive to take the first game of the Finals series.

Delivering through adversity

The final set began with six straight deadlocks between DLSU and NU, exchanging points through spikes and blocks from Solomon and Belen for the defending champions, and Gagate, Canino, and Sharma for the Taft-based team, 6-6. The tied game reflected how much both teams were to claim the victory, refusing to back down after committing errors or failing to defend attacks.

The game would only get more intense, however, as La Salle managed to go for a 4-0 run, which featured service and attack errors apiece from the Bulldogs, a Gagate block point, and another attack from NU that would land outside, 10-6. The streak of points lit the flame for fans of the Green and White for what seemed to be the final meltdown of their opponent. However, they would be proven wrong as the team in blue would answer with a 3-0 run of their own, including scores from the duo of Solomon and Belen, 10-9. Gagate then answered back with a solid score off a block and a vicious putback spike to give La Salle a 12-9 lead.

After another point from Belen and both teams trading errors, Solomon would score another powerful spike that would go off DLSU’s block attempt, landing outside, 13-12. While attempting to duel La Salle’s blockers, Sheena Toring dropped to the floor in pain after landing awkwardly, leading to the Bulldog being stretchered off the court. In the process, NU would challenge a net touch call, which would turn out successful, retaining the score. Canino and Belen would trade attacks, leaving DLSU at match point, 14-13. A final attacking error from the defending champions would seal the deal for the Green and White after a long, intense battle between their rivalry.

Throughout the matchup, DLSU showed tenacity despite morale challenging moments by NU. The fifth set proved no different as La Salle knew it was their chance to strike for two in-a-row after exchanging sets with the Bulldogs since the first whistle blew at the start of the game. With both teams looking to gain a 1-0 advantage in the championship series, La Salle came out victorious in the first battle between the juggernauts on top of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament.

After the match, Lady Spikers’ Assistant Coach Noel Orcullo expressed that he was happy with the team’s performance, “Pinaghirapan…ginusto ng mga bata manalo.” He further explained how the girls held onto the fight, despite being down two sets to one. And the results were as expected as he saw the players working hard to get the first win they needed.

(We had a hard time…the kids really wanted to win.)

Araw-araw namin ‘tong goal sa sarili namin [and] as a team na manalo ng Finals” Canino uttered. Sharing how it was an emotional game for her, Canino exclaimed that the team will not stop having one more game, which they look forward to finishing successfully.

(We had this as a goal for ourselves everyday and to win in the Finals as a team.)

Gagate and Dela Cruz shared how the team exerted their best efforts and perseverance, “Hindi naman ‘to ibibigay ni Lord sa amin without hardwork and dedication para manalo,” says Dela Cruz. On the same note, Gagate shared that they persevered to fight despite losing the first set—reminding themselves that they are capable, “Kaya namin sila dahil kinaya din namin yung first and second round”. 

(This wasn’t just given by God without hardwork and dedication for us to win.)

Only one more triumph away from the championship title, the DLSU Lady Spikers will not let the win get in their heads as they will still have to prepare for another grueling fight. The next game of their Finals series against the NU Lady Bulldogs will be held in the SM Mall of Asia Arena on May 14 at 4 pm. 

The Scores:

DLSU 3 – Canino 21, Gagate 17, Laput 7, Malaluan 6, Alba 6, Dela Cruz 6, Provido 5, Sharma 3, Jazareno 0, Coronel 0

NU 2 – Solomon 28, Belen 22, Alinsug 10, Pangilinan 10, Toring 6, Lamina 4, Robles 1, Nierva 1, Ellarina 0, Maaya 0, Cagande 0, Escanlar 0, Jardio 0 
Set Scores: 18-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13

Tana Melgar

By Tana Melgar

Gab Ortiz

By Gab Ortiz

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