ASKED to compare his first three-peat with De La Salle to his last one, Lady Spikers coach Ramil de Jesus can't help but rave about the great strides volleyball has made over the past few years.
De Jesus has won eight UAAP women's volleyball championships for La Salle including the school's first hat-trick of titles from 2003 to 2005, back when the league games were played before sparse crowds at the University of the Philippines' College of Human Kinetics gym in Quezon City.
“Nung sa UP pa ‘yung laro, ’yung ticket halos pinamimigay na namin, wala pa ring kumukuha,” said the reticent coach, breaking into a shy smile.
That stood in stark contrast to the latest championship de Jesus won with the Lady Archers, who completed a sweep of arch-rivals Ateneo Lady Eagles in a best-of-three championship series played before crowds never before seen in the long history of the sport in the country.
Game One of the finals attracted over 17,000 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum while the Lady Archers' title-clinching 25-23, 25-20, 25-16 on Wednesday was witnessed by 18,779 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena - just short of the record 19,638 crowd that came to see the two teams' final elimination match on February 9.
“Ngayon, may ticket ka, kapag may nanghingi sa 'yo, wala ka nang maipamigay," said the soft-spoken La Salle coach. "Sobrang nakakatuwa.”
He added: “Maraming nanonood ngayon. Nung time na ‘yun, wala namang nanonood. Ngayon nasa MOA kami. Talagang maraming gustong maka-witness kung ano ‘yung nangyayari.”
De Jesus admitted the huge crowds added to the pressure, both for the players and the coaches, but was happy to see the Lady Spikers get the job done.
“Definitely, oo (mas malaki pressure) dahil mas maraming nag-eexpect. At least natapos namin ng maayos,” said De Jesus.
De Jesus' team was so dominant this season they won 16 games in a row after losing their tournament debut to the University of Santo Tomas, counting their victory over National University in the Final Four and the two-game sweep of Ateneo in the finals.
But the coach said the quest for a fourth championship was farthest from his mind, insisting this campaign has become so draining emotionally he wanted to savor his latest title feat.
“Hindi ko muna iniisip ‘yung next year," he said. "Gusto ko muna magpahinga kasi naging mahaba itong UAAP.”