WITHOUT its skipper and top gunner, La Salle is no doubt the overwhelming underdog against defending champion Ateneo in their finals showdown for the UAAP women’s volleyball championship.
But for three respected names in volleyball, it's not a case of 'Mission Impossible' for the Lady Spikers.
Tats Suzara, Roger Gorayeb and Mozzy Ravena agree a Lady Spikers side stunned by the loss of leading scorer Ara Galang to injury faces great odds, but they also believe the team is capable of slaying a Goliath in the top-seeded Ateneo Lady Eagles in the finals beginning on Wednesday.
For starters, Gorayeb, whose NU Lady Bulldogs bowed to the Lady Spikers in the run-up to the finals, said the thrice-to-beat advantage Ateneo got after a sweep of the two-round eliminations sounded overwhelming but is actually not as big an edge as it seemed.
The former Ateneo coach pointed out that a thrice-to-beat edge is basically no more than a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five finals and all the Lady Spikers need to do is win one game to change the finals' complexion.
Suzara, president of the fledgling Philippine Super Liga, said the pressure has considerably eased on La Salle after Galang's season-ending injury and the Lady Spikers hold the luxury of playing loose.
“Just enjoy the game. There’s nothing to lose,” said Suzara, a former national junior player and coach. “Pag nagpa-pressure ka lalo ka magkakamali.”
Ravena, a former national player who suited up for multi-titled University of Santo Tomas teams in college, said the loss of Galang can't be filled by one player and the only way the Lady Spikers can hope to compensate is if they play as a team.
“Team effort more than ever,” she said.
The finals, Suzara said, is also an opportunity for coach Ramil de Jesus and La Salle to gamble on new schemes, like the use of left-handed players and attacks from the back row if only to throw Ateneo’s defense off-balanced.
“For me, they should make use of left-handed players. It’s a big potential and more back attacks,” said Suzara, who is also development commission officer of the Federation Internationale de Volleyball, the governing body responsible for all forms of volleyball on a global level.
The FIVB official stressed left-handed players are hard to check especially if the spiker attacks from the back row.
“Left handed kasi unique, mahirap bantayan, mahirap depensahan,” he said. “Kasi hindi naman lahat left handed and most of the left-handed players are top scorers especially sa back attack.
“Back attack kasi has a lot of space to work with, very common kasi ang harap-harap (na palo) eh. Sa world volleyball, most points come from back attack,” he added.
Suzara said rarely used La Salle player Carol Cerveza definitely fits the bill.
A natural utility player, Cerveza was used sparingly in the stepladder phase and scored just two points in the Lady Spikers’ victory in their do-or-die encounter against National University.
Asked who can step up to fill in the void left by Galang in her position, Suzara mentioned three names - Camille Cruz, Princess Tiu, and Christine Soyud.
“Ara kasi is the top scorer, so they should make a game plan to make sure other players will make points,” he said. “Give a chance to new players to move up kasi may pressure na ‘yan eh, ang Ateneo thrice-to-beat.”
Ravena believes last year’s best setter Kim Fajardo holds the key for the Taft-based school in Galang’s absence.
The mother of basketball stars Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena noted Fajardo should spread the ball well and involve more La Salle spikers to ensure a balanced and offense that will be hard to read.
“To fill the void left by Ara, the players will have to put up their numbers,” said Ravena, who does the commentating in the television coverage of UAAP and Shakeys V-League games.
“But the biggest responsibility will be on the distribution and quick reads and game adjustments of Kim Fajardo, which she is very capable of,” she added.
A two-time UAAP champion with the Tigresses, Ravena also mentioned the likes of Cyd Demecillo, Desiree Cheng, Soyud, and Cerveza as other offensive options De Jesus can rely on.
Ravena pointed out that if there is someone capable of making the necessary adjustments following a key loss like Galang, it should be the veteran de Jesus.
Ravena is in fact not discounting another surprise from de Jesus, like the one the 18-year La Salle coach pulled off during the semifinals when he replaced Fajardo with Cheng in the setter spot to baffle the Lady Bulldogs.
“Coach Ramil might rely on the veteran Cyd more and use Cheng, Soyud, and Cerveza,” she said. “But he might also surprise everyone with another move like when he used Cheng as a setter.”
So is it Mission Impossible for the Lady Archers?