Posted Feb 16th 2014
Road to Four a Treacherous One for Lady Spikers
By Anton Roxas Posted Nov 25th 2013
Last October 28, the De La Salle University Women’s Volleyball team finished in third place at the 18th Unigames held at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City. Despite coming off a third straight UAAP Championship, the seemingly invincible Lady Spikers showed signs of vulnerability as they suffered an upset defeat in the semifinals against a less experienced FEU Lady Tamaraws squad (FEU would go on to lose a close 5-setter to UST in the Finals.)
However, for long-time DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus, this setback serves as a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to defend their title in the upcoming 76th UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament.
“Napaka-laking bagay na nakita ko na nung Unigames. Tingin ko, nasa, let’s say last year, nasa 80% yung blocking namin. Ngayon, bumaba ng 60 or 50. Kaya nag-concentrate kami ngayon sa floor defense. Siguradong lulusot yung bola. Kailangan makuha namin sa baba,” said de Jesus, who started coaching the Lady Spikers way back in June, 1997.
Two-time UAAP best blocker Michele Gumabao and fearless libero Melissa Gohing, who specialized in blocking and floor defense, respectively, have both graduated, leaving gaping holes on the DLSU defense.
To de Jesus, one of the biggest challenges of being a college coach, is how to property manage the transition of new players into the team once the veterans have graduated. Molding these rookies into high-caliber players is also a part of that challenge and it takes a lot of time and effort in practice.
“Nahihirapan pa ako mag-develop sa ngayon pero eventually, merong mag ii-step up dyan,” said de Jesus.
There are three rookies that have the potential to carry the La Sallian winning tradition in the future. Desiree Cheng from Hope Christian High School is expected to fill in Gumabao’s spot in the first six as an open spiker/utility player. The Lady Spikers also reinforced their lineup with a pair of high school stalwarts from De La Salle-Zobel, Kim Dy and Dawn Macandili. Like the DLSU Women’s team, the DLSZ squad is also coming off a third-straight championship in the UAAP Girls’ Volleyball tournament with Dy being awarded as the Best Blocker and Macandili as the Best Libero.
Macadali will share the role of libero with sophomore Cienne Cruz. Cienne’s older sister, Camille, is also set to make her return to the lineup this season after recovering from knee injuries.
Of course, leading the charge for DLSU will be Team Captain Abi Maraňo, fourth-year setter Mika Esperanza, and talented juniors, Ara Galang and Mika Reyes.
Maraňo, who won a second-straight Most Valuable Player award last season (Co-MVP with Galang in UAAP Season 75.), will be playing in her fifth and final UAAP season and is the lone graduating player on the team. The 20 year old from Antipolo admitted that the upcoming season presents a daunting challenge ahead.
“Mas heavy yung pressure kasi last year mo na, so, parang yung mindset mo is maka-graduate ka ng makuha mo ulit yung championship at may maiwan kang legacy sa team sa whole La Sallian community. Sobrang laking pressure kasi entire LaSallian community tinitignan ako kasi I’m the leader of the team,” said Maraňo.
“Last year, I had Michele, Ate Mel (Gohing) and Wensh Tiu to cover up for me as a team leader. But now, I’m all alone, parang pinaka-matanda na talaga. Pero, I’m really, really thankful na nag ii-step up yung mga second batch ko like sila Esperanza, Kim Fajardo, Cyd Demecillo, also Ara and Yeye (Mika Reyes),” she added.
A former UAAP Rookie of the year, Mika Esperanza is now emerging as one of the more vocal players on the team and she wants to make sure that they have Maraňo’s back.
“Ayoko naman isipin ni Ate Abi na the burden is all on her. Lagi sinasabi ni Coach sa mga rookies na ‘There will come a time na kayo na talaga yung mag-hahandle nung team.’ Some of us are fourth year now. Ayaw din namin ipa-feel kay Ate Abi na sa kanya lahat yung pressure. Kailangan mo rin saluhin. Alam mo na this is a responsibility,” said Esperanza.
With seven UAAP championships in the past decade, the standard for success in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament has been set. As the rest of the teams in the league attempt to snatch the crown away from Taft Avenue, the pressure is on the DLSU Lady Spikers to extend their title run and make history as well.
Since the Final Four format was instituted in 1993, no team has ever won four straight championships. Although the idea of accomplishing this unprecedented feat adds pressure to the squad, it also gives them a sense of motivation.
Ara Galang’s eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas day as soon as she found out that they could be the first team to accomplish a ‘Four-peat’ in the Final Four era.
“Gusto ko na makamit yung goal. Parang na-excite na rin ako,” said the 18 year old native from Angeles, Pampanga.
Five foot eleven Mika Reyes added, “Nakaka-challenge kasi parang yun lang yung puwede mo sabihin sa sarili mo eh. Pag nakuha mo yung 4-peat na ‘to, parang iba yung feeling kasi kayo lang yung team na ganun.”
The “Road to Four” will be a treacherous one, but with Coach Ramil’s system and the Lady Spikers’ championship experience they are capable enough to extend their reign.