DESPITE the uncertainty surrounding Finals MVP Michelle Gumabao, expect De La Salle to remain a formidable force when it guns for a fourth straight UAAP women’s volleyball championship.
With team captain Abi Marano and fellow stars Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, and Mika Esperanza returning for another tour of duty, coach Ramil de Jesus said he still likes the title chances of his rookie-laden team even if Gumabao has yet to commit playing on her fifth and final year.
“Sa ngayon nasa 80 percent pa lang ang performance level ng team,” De Jesus told Spin.ph after one practice by the Lady Spikers. “Pero pagdating ng season kailangang maging ready. No matter what, kailangan maging ready.”
De Jesus admitted the Lady Spikers have been making adjustments and going back to basics in a bid to hasten the development of their rookie players.
“Pagdating ng season, game situations at bonding ng team naman (ang aasikasuhin namin) para maabot (ng rookies) `yung level ng senior players,” said De Jesus.
While the Lady Spikers are preparing extensively for their title defense, the respected coach of the Taft-based school declined to predict how the team would fare this season, saying everything boils down to preparation.
“Bawat teams naman nag-e-expect ng ganun (mag-champion).” De Jesus said. “ Hindi naman nagpa-practice para maging second lang.
“Ang goal mag-first. Kung sino `yung may tamang preparasyon, siya `yung tamang manalo.”
La Salle and arch-rival Ateneo – which placed runner-up for two consecutive seasons – are still considered the top two teams in the UAAP, although National University is expected to crowd the two after the Lady Bulldogs won the first conference title of the Shakey’s V-League last summer.
“Good para sa kanila kasi at least nakakuha sila ng confidence at tumaas ang confidence level nila. Nadagdagan pa `yung lineup, so far medyo intact nga sila this year. Nakita ko din sa kanila ngayon na bago `yung coach nila,” commented De Jesus of the Lady Bulldogs’ rise.
Asked if NU will be a threat to the Lady Spikers and the rest of the UAAP teams, De Jesus remained non-committal.
“Sa ngayon hindi ko pa masasabi kasi di ko pa nakikita ang performance ng ibang teams,” he said.
Despite a lineup teeming with rookies, and up against a field that obviously has gotten better throughout the season, De Jesus believes his team still carries an advantage.
“Defending champions sila, so `yung confidence nila inside the court mataas,” De Jesus pointed out. “Mas buo ang team, so ngayon siguro ang nakikita kong advantage (ay) kilala nila ang isa’t-isa at maging solid lang inside the court.”
But above anything else, De Jesus’ trust in the team and his players has never waned.
“Lagi kong sinasabi sa kanila na, ‘The more na nagtitiwala ako sa inyo, the more na dapat pinagtitiwalaan nyo ang sarili nyo pag kayo ang nasa court,'” said the La Salle mentor.