After a heartbreaking runner-up finish last season, the DLSU Lady Spikers finally broke their five-year title drought with a reverse sweep to clinch the UAAP Season 85 Women’s Volleyball Championship against the defending champions the NU Lady Bulldogs, 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-10, earlier tonight, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Mars Alba—who earned this season’s Best Setter accolade—was also recognized as the Finals’ Most Valuable Player (MVP) as she tallied 16 excellent sets. Meanwhile, newly-hailed Second Best Outside Hitter, Rookie of the Year, and MVP Angel Canino spearheaded the scoring exhibit as she delivered 19 points built on 12 spikes, six aces, and a block. Three other Lady Spikers finished in double digits: First Best Middle Blocker Thea Gagate with 17, Shevana Laput with 12, and Fifi Sharma with 11.
On the losing effort, Alyssa Solomon steered the offense of the Lady Bulldogs after recording a career-high with 34 points on 31 attacks and three aces. Season 84 MVP Bella Belen was the only other Lady Bulldog to score double digits as she registered 11 points.
The Lady Spikers got off to a shaky start as miscommunication from their receivers failed to set up most of their attack plays. Belen and Solomon aggressively bombarded DLSU’s defense, but they were immediately answered back with a kill from Sharma and a Laput cross-court attack at 6-5. Despite the Green and White’s defensive efforts, the Belen-Solomon duo launched back-to-back hits to put the Lady Bulldogs up by two markers heading into the first technical timeout, 8-6.
With an eruptive hit from Solomon and Canino getting swatted by Erin Pangilinan, 12-7, NU put their foot on the gas pedal with a 7-1 run. Gagate managed to get one point by, but the team from Taft’s offense would always be retaliated by the Lady Bulldogs, this time by Pangilinan with a cut shot, 13-8.
The duo of Canino and Jolina Dela Cruz spearheaded an attempt to come back from their offensive drought with a service ace and a combination play attack, respectively, to even out the contest, 16-all. However, the 7-1 run from the Lady Bulldogs—capped off by a down-the-line pound from Solomon—put her team in a commanding five-point lead. Joyme Cagande then wrapped up the first set with a service ace, 25-19.
Behind on firepower
Eager to bounce back from their loss, the Lady Spikers started the second set more aggressively as Gagate scored two consecutive points on top of a Canino block to take the lead early on, 3-0. NU responded with a 3-0 run of their own, courtesy of Solomon and Belen’s spikes and a DLSU error, 3-all. After Gagate and Dela Cruz scored one apiece, Solomon converted three straight attack points for her team, 6-5. Malaluan took the point back with an off-the-block hit, but NU managed to respond with back-to-back points to head into the first technical timeout, 8-6.
Both teams went on a scoring showdown after the first technical timeout until NU exploded after the 10-all mark for a huge 4-0 scoring parade that gave them the momentum to take the lead, 14-10. A quick attack by Amie Provido halted the NU run, only to be returned by Pangilinan’s version of her own, 15-11. Working favorably for the Lady Spikers, NU gave away three consecutive points from unforced errors to cut the lead down to one, 15-14. However, La Salle committed an unfortunate error to send NU to the second technical timeout, 16-14.
Off the break, neither team refused to give away any opportunity for a run as they continued to trade points with NU still in the lead—until the Lady Spikers launched a 4-1 bomb from Canino and Provido’s combined efforts. Vange Alinsug and Canino then went on to exchange cross-court attacks, but Belen and Minierva Maaya proved to be too much for the defenders of La Salle, 24-22. While Dela Cruz managed to save one set point for the Lady Spikers, Solomon hammered down a cross-court attack to close out the set, 25-23.
NU dominated the early half of the third set with Belen and Solomon’s kills proving to be too much for La Salle’s defense. This continued as Solomon registered consecutive service aces, 6-2. The Lady Spikers did not let NU run through with their attacks, however, as Laput swatted Lamina and Alinsug to trim the lead to two, 7-5. Belen buried a deep kill, 8-5, bringing her team to the first technical timeout.
It was a neck-and-neck affair from both sides as Canino carried a 3-0 solo run capped off by a service equalizer, 8-all. The Lady Bulldogs, led by the Belen-Solomon tandem, carried most of their team’s offense to counter DLSU. However, Canino proved to be too much for NU as her corner pocket shot led to her team leading by three markers heading into the second technical timeout, 16-13. This would be the start of the 10-1 run that pulled DLSU away from the Lady Bulldogs. With Solomon’s hit making its mark outside, the Green and White controlled the third set, 25-15.
Finally maintaining their pace from the previous set, the Lady Spikers did not waste their momentum coming into the fourth set as all five attackers were activated early on to gain a four-point advantage coming into the first technical timeout, 8-4.
The Lady Bulldogs were rallied back to the ball game by Solomon, as they managed to trim the deficit down to two, 10-8. However, La Salle responded with five straight points from three NU errors and back-to-back points from Gagate to stretch the lead back up to seven, 15-8. Pangilinan was able to stop the merciless run by La Salle, but an error from her squad sent the Green and White to the second technical timeout, 16-9.
Both teams then went on to trade points until the 20-13 mark, as La Salle did not allow NU to create any scoring momentum. While the Lady Bulldogs were able to cut the lead down to five behind the scoring outputs of Robles and Solomon, the Lady Spikers responded with three straight points courtesy of Gagate’s impeccable defense at the net and Canino’s reliable offensive prowess. Solomon saved one set point, but Malaluan was able to end the set with an emphatic push to force a five-set thriller, 25-17.
Taking it home
After a dominating performance in the penultimate set by the Lady Spikers, they rode their momentum onward to the deciding set. Laput began the showdown with back-to-back swats against Belen and Solomon but was answered right back with a Solomon kill, 2-1. Robles complemented Solomon’s scoring with two of her own to edge La Salle by two, 7-5.
Gagate shined when it mattered most as she commanded the final juncture of the set, converting a hit and blocking Belen and Solomon consecutively, 13-9. Malaluan then exploded for the 14th point for DLSU. It was a hit from Gagate that finished it and finally brought the UAAP Women’s Volleyball crown back to Taft, 15-10.
After the match, super rookie Canino expressed how the pressure coming to this game strengthened her to perform further and take her game to the next level. Moreover, she shared the team’s goal for next season, “Makakuha ulit ng championship sa UAAP kasi ito ‘yung biggest goal namin as a team. Hindi kami titigil dahil nag-champion kami kasi alam namin na meron pa kaming nilo-look forward sa team.”
(We aim to win the UAAP championship again because it is our biggest goal as a team. We won’t stop just because we became champions because we know that there are more things we look forward to as a team.)
“Sa five years ko sa La Salle, ngayon lang ako nakaranas ng [championship],” Alba quipped.
(In my five years in La Salle, I was only able to experience a championship now.)
Her fellow senior Dela Cruz added, “Sobrang tagal naming inantay ‘yung chance na ganito. Sobrang thankful natin kay God dahil kami ‘yung nabigyan ng opportunity para makuha ‘yung championship.”
(We waited so long for this chance. We’re so thankful to God because we were the ones given the chance to take the championship.)
With two eligible playing years still to their names, the pair of veterans have yet to decide whether they will continue to lace up for the Green and White in Season 86—for now, they celebrate the moment they worked so hard for.
Weighing in on the efforts of his side, DLSU Coach Noel Orcullo reflected, “Napakahirap na paraan, napakasarap na pakiramdam…lagi [naming] sinasabi sa bata, ‘wag kayong magsawa sa tiyaga. Makukuha rin natin to. Eto, champion na naman [ang La Salle.]”
(What a hard road, what an amazing feeling…I always tell the kids, don’t get tired of persevering. We will get this too. Here we are, La Salle are champions once again.)
While the road was definitely not easy, the Lady Spikers and their coaching staff bore the fruits of their labor after bringing home DLSU’s 12th UAAP Women’s Volleyball Championship.
DLSU 3 – Canino 19, Gagate 17, Laput 12, Sharma 11, Dela Cruz 6, Larroza 4, Alba 3, Malaluan 3, Provido 2, Coronel 0, Soreño 0
NU 2 – Solomon 34, Belen 11, Pangilinan 8, Alinsug 7, Lamina 5, Robles 4, Maaya 4, Cagande 1, Ellarina 0
Set Scores: 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-10