WHAT went wrong with the once invincible De La Salle Lady Spikers in Game One?
After 30 straight victories dating to last season, the three-time defending champions Lady Spikers slipped on Wednesday against a determined Ateneo Lady Eagles side, 25-17, 23-25, 13-25, 20-25, in the opening match of the UAAP women's volleyball finals.
The loss took away the thrice-to-beat advantage the Lady Spikers gained after a sweep of the two-round eliminations and reduced the finals into a best-of-three affair beginning in Game Two on Saturday, also at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Of course, no one knows the Lady Spikers more than coach Ramil de Jesus. Here the eight-time UAAP champion coach listed down the four reasons that led to the loss to the Lady Eagles on Wednesday.
• Rust caused by 18-day break
La Salle earned a outright finals berth after completing a 14-match sweep of the eliminations on February 15. They anticipated National University to be their finals opponent, as the Lady Bulldogs finished the elims at No. 2 and gained a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
But the Lady Eagles changed all that by defeating NU twice, first on February 26 and the second on March 1, ousting the Lady Bulldogs and leading to an 18-day gap without a competitive match for the Lady Spikers.
“Siguro yung hirap nung medyo nakapagpahinga ng matagal iba talaga yung game kaysa sa training lang,” said De Jesus. “Almost two weeks na pahinga talaga 'yun. Kung siguro natapos noong Saturday kung nanalo na yung NU (in semifinals) hindi na-move ng mas matagal (ang Finals) pero hindi magiging rason ’yun eh kailangan mag handa ulit (for Game Two).”
• Overconfident Lady Spikers took Ateneo lightly
De Jesus admitted they prepared for second seed National University and had spent the break analyzing the Lady Bulldogs’ system. Worse, when Ateneo turned back NU, La Salle made the mistake of focusing on the league’s leading scorer and soon to be named season MVP Alyssa Valdez.
“Mindset namin nasa NU na halos buong week na ’yun para sa NU na, nakapag-prepare lang kami two days na (for Ateneo),” he added.
Valdez had been practically carrying the Lady Eagles all season, but what shocked the Lady Spikers was that Ateneo’s bit players suddenly got big roles.
“Naka-focus lang 'yung team kay Valdez hindi namin akalain na gagalaw yung dalawa so madaming maling nagawa (ang La Salle) at ’yun ang naging factor (ng pagkatalo namin),” the normally reticent de Jesus said.
Valdez still came up with 16 points, but for the first time she was not the top scorer as rookie Michelle Morente came up one better with 17. A Ahomiro contributed 16 and pint-sized Ella de Jesus added 12.
Freshman setter Julia Morado also provided the Lady Eagles with 40 excellent sets.
“Hindi ko naman in-expect na ganoon kataas ang ilalaro ng Ateneo, nahirapan kami mag-adjust itong second set hanggang fourth set so maganda lang talaga ang nilaro ng Ateneo,” said the La Salle mentor. “Madaming nag-perform sa Ateneo, hindi lang si Valdez, andyan si Morente, si De Jesus pati 'yung setter nila.”
• One too many errors for La Salle
The multi-titled De Jesus could not help but rant about their miscues especially on their service, which, for him, killed them.
“Nahirapan kami, maraming service error,” he said. “Kami mismo pumuputol ng momentum namin.”
La Salle committed 11 service errors, while Ateneo only had five the entire game.
• Team captain Aby Maraño's below-par performance
THE fifth-year spiker, acknowledged as the Lady Spikers' heart and soul, only had a quiet 10 points and failed to rally the team in the final stretch - something de Jesus himself pointed out.
“Isa pa ’yun… hindi nakapagdala ng team si Aby,” admitted De Jesus. “Hindi rin nakapag-excecute ng play, halos hindi ko siya maramdaman sa game kanina. Kasi wala ngang receive walang quick (attack) kaya hindi mabigyan ng bola si Aby.”
“’Yung mga players ko kasi alam ko kung kayang humabol, may mga games naman na down kami nakakaya naming humabol, siguro breaks na rin may mga natapong service errors siguro 'yun na rin ang nag-down sa kanila, sila na rin ang nagpatalo sa kanila.
"Marami kaming kalaban, kalaban mo na ang kalaban mo, kalaban mo pa ang sarili mo ... So mahirap maka-survive pagka ganon.”