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    After ending long title drought, UP aims to translate winning culture in UAAP

    Sep 14, 2018

    MORE than the euphoria of bagging its first major volleyball title in 36 years, the rise of University of the Philippines to the Premier Volleyball League Season 2 Collegiate Conference championship instilled a winning culture to this batch of Lady Maroons and the future of the program.

    The first volleyball championship in almost four decades meant a lot to the team, alumni, the school, and the fans.

    And for UP head coach Godfrey Okumu, it’s the start of developing their winning culture.

    “Culture. Winning culture. Everything starts with one step and it grows,” said Okumu after the Lady Maroons accomplished an amazing fifth-set comeback over the FEU Lady Tamaraws with a title-clinching 25-20, 25-18, 23-25, 20-25, 15-13 victory in Game Two last Wednesday at the Arena in San Juan City.

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      This batch of Lady Maroons — mixed of seniors and rookies — will be remembered not only as the first champions of the school in the PVL, but also as comeback queens for their patience, perseverance, mental toughness, and hard work.

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      Even though they came in as the fourth seed, they never wavered. Down two sets in Game One of the finals, they never gave up until drawing first blood. They were almost poisoned by their own medicine in Game Two when they blew a two-set lead and trailed, 7-13, in the fifth set, but they didn’t stop until bringing back lost glory to Diliman.

      So what's the key to their amazing journey?

      “Because we lost a couple of games. Here we are (winning the championship) with patience, perseverance, mental toughness, and hard work. Hardwork works, yeah!” Okumu expressed.

      UP didn’t win against all the UAAP teams Adamson, UST and FEU in the elimination round, wounding up fourth place with a 4-3 win-loss record. The Lady Maroons took on unbeaten No. 1 team in the Lady Falcons in a best-of-three semifinals series and won Game One, then got swept in Game Two, before prevailing in the do-or-die Game Three to book their first finals appearance in the PVL.

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      Okumu and the Lady Maroons were never discouraged from those losses and they used it as a lesson that made them better.

      “The only thing I taught my players about and my team, embrace the moment but be patient because we have a challenge ahead but you should not be in a hurry to get to where we are going everything takes time,” the Kenyan coach said. “For us to be here ( in the championship) it took us time. We we lost many games and by losing we learn how to win, we learn how to play together and instead of going apart when we lose, we learn to stay together.”

      “The losses brought us together so that strength would keep us together now we are winning and I believe it will continue with good training and support from UP fans,” he added.

      Ayel Estrañero, the fifth-year setter of UP, said that since their coach took over last year, they have been more optimistic, more motivated to be better and work harder as one unit.

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      “I think since coach Okumu joined the team, everything has been positive and then everyone is just so motivated to train and to get better. There’s always an atmosphere of competition within the team, but then it’s always been a healthy competition,” said Estrañero, who provided the title-clinching ace with the help of Conference and Finals MVP Isa Molde.

      “Everyone has been helping each other to improve so you see that everyone is going up together. No one’s shining alone, it’s really a team going up together and hopefully we can be more consistent in the future,” she added.

      The Lady Maroons dedicated it to the mammoth UP crowd that flocked the Arena and never stopped cheering regardless if the team was leading or trailing.

      “It felt like we played in UP Gym with the fans cheering on; we don’t want to let them down. They made us feel at ease knowing that somebody’s there whether we are down or whether we’re leading. They will be always be there to push and shout call names and ‘UP fight!’” Okumu said. “The word fight means continue pushing so we really credit and respect (the fans) and I invite them to please come in big numbers wherever we’re playing we will continue keeping our promise to play well, play good volleyball, we’ll never disappoint.”

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      Now that the Lady Maroons are starting to develop that winning culture that boosted their confidence and made them instant contenders come UAAP Season 81 next year, they will have targets on their backs and will experience more pressure unlike before when the school had no title and finals appearances.

      But for Okumu, if they continue to overcame the pressure like they managed in the PVL, they will succeed.

      “The pressure is there like (in Game Two) we had pressure but what you do when you’re under pressure? We try to relax, we take it out, we don’t think about it so much,” he said. “Because if we think we must win and then we’re in a haste and then we might end up not achieving our goals.”

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