IN his 21 UAAP Seasons as De La Salle’s head coach, this is the first time that Ramil De Jesus will not be armed with a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
The Lady Spikers held a twice-to-beat incentive from 2009 to 2018 and reached the Finals in all those semifinals appearances, winning seven of their 11 UAAP titles.
“Actually, wala eh. Palagi kaming nasa top two. Kung sakali, ngayon lang nangyari ito,” said De Jesus.
As this year is going to be an unfamiliar territory for De Jesus and his wards as they on the twice-to-beat University of Santo Tomas in the Final Four of UAAP Season 81 on Sunday at the MOA Arena.
The longest-tenured coach in the league admitted that this team is not as strong as their past rosters in the past three years led by Kianna Dy, Majoy Baron and Dawn Macandili.
But De Jesus wants his wards to believe in the school’s winning tradition, fight for pride and trust each other.
“May mga times kasi na talagang 'yung tradition, 'yung winning tradition nandoon. Tapos, kahit hindi naman ganoong kalakas 'yung lineup mo, minsan dala-dala naman ng mga bata 'yung pride eh,” De Jesus said. “This year, hindi ko masasabing malakas 'yung lineup ng team ko, pero naniniwala sila na malakas 'yung team nila. Malaking bagay 'yun at kailangan maniwala sila na ganoon pa rin 'yung team nila.”
After failing to seal the twice-to-beat in its last elimination game to Far Eastern University and blew it in the playoff with UST, La Salle is on the brink of getting dethroned as one loss will shatter its ‘four-peat’ hopes.
“Sabi ko sa kanila na hindi pa naman tapos. 'Yung malaking pinto na dati before ng FEU napaluwag natin, lumiit 'yung pinto, kailangan pa rin natin pasukin kung mas gusto niyo,” the La Salle coach said.
That’s why De Jesus wants seniors Desiree Cheng, Lourdes Clemente, Aduke Ogunsanya, Michelle Cobb, May Luna, Tin Tiamzon and rookie Jolina Dela Cruz to be more eager and do everything right with their backs against the wall.
“Mas uhaw 'yung UST kasi matagal na rin ang UST na wala sa Finals. Kailangan mas uhaw kami kung gusto ninyong makabalik (sa Finals),” De Jesus said.
“Kung mas gusto ng mga bata manalo, magagawa naman 'yun eh. Siguro, kailangan pa siguro ng maturity and leader sa loob ng court,” he added.
And one more thing, the 11-time UAAP champion coach is challenging the Lady Spikers to limit the intensity of graduating Tigress Sisi Rondina and surpass her desire to reach the Finals.
“Yun nga yung gameplan na medyo ma-lessen 'yung unforced errors namin and then ma-control si Sisi. Yung leadership ni Sisi 'yung bumubuhay doon sa UST,” De Jesus said. “Kailangan mas gustuhin natin. Makikita natin na 'yung UST na nakuha ng twice-to-beat, mukhang hindi bibitaw. Sabi ko sa kanila, ‘Kung gusto natin makuha 'yung Finals, kailangan paghirapan.’”