The search for its missing dominance in the UAAP continues for La Salle in Season 78 with all roads leading to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Saturday for its big matchup against rival Ateneo.
Though it is still the most successful collegiate squad in the past decade with 6 titles, the last 2 years have been challenging for the Taft squad.
In Season 77 alone, the Lady Spikers got swept by the Lady Eagles in the finals, failing to snatch even a set as they finished as bridesmaids for the 2nd year in a row.
But if its veteran players like Ara Galang, Mika Reyes and Kim Fajardo are to be believed, 2016’s roster, according to them, is a lot better than last year’s.
But are the girls off Taft really a new and improved version of their old selves? The stats, if they don’t lie, are telling. Here are 5 reasons why La Salle will win round 1.
Prior to the season’s kick off, La Salle’s starting libero slot was pretty much a vacant position with Dawn Macandili and Carmel Saga as ‘interns.’
If the 1st round performance of Macandili is any indication, however, the fans of the Lady Spikers can now breathe a sigh of relief as the search, as it seems, is finally over.
Though she has been dislodged from the top of the best receivers list where she is currently ranked 2nd, the diminutive volleybelle remains to be the league’s best digger with 2.76 saves per set.
Combine that with Ara Galang’s numbers on the defensive end—10th in digging and 4th in reception— and you have La Salle as the best team in terms of floor defense which will be a huge advantage as Ateneo is currently the best spiking team and the 2nd-best serving team in the tournament.
The goal is to bring the ball to the setter as flawlessly as possible. If the Lady Spikers can do that, the drought could be over soon.
2. The swagger is back
More than anything, it was La Salle’s confidence that seemed amiss in Season 77.
The Lady Spikers looked like they were still reeling from losing the title in 2014 and they were not able to shrug it off in time to bring the crown back to Taft.
It is a completely different case this year, though. You’ll see it in the way they move inside the court. You’ll feel it from the way they talk in the interviews. They want the crown back and for most of them, it’s this year or never.
The girls are done nursing their ego. Like what spiker Ara Galang said, they are done looking back and they are hungry to move forward.
This is the attitude of a champion and if the younger ones could imbibe this mentality, too, then La Salle is truly back to being a threat to the throne.
Back when Gohing was still La Salle’s libero, Kim Fajardo had this technique of quickly glancing at the opponent’s side of the court before sending the ball to her spikers to check where the blockers are positioned.
This was something she didn’t have the liberty to do in the past 2 seasons because admit it or not, her team’s reception was all over the place.
This year, if you’ve been watching closely, she’s been doing it again and the results are commendable.
So far, Fajardo is leading the setters list with with 8.65 sets per frame and as we all know by now, a setter who gets to fool her blockers merits an excellent set.
La Salle crumbled even more last year when they lost the services of Galang due to the unfortunate knee injury. This makes Fajardo’s focus vital for if she falls apart, it could mean disaster for her team.
If she gets her groove early and sets up plays that will deceive the defending champions on the other hand, then Ateneo’s weakness in digging—7th in the league—could be their way out of trouble.
4. Improvement across all skills
La Salle as a team is dominating in blocking, serving, digging, receiving and setting. That is 5 out of 6 skills and in that one department where the Lady Spikers are trailing—spiking—they are #2.
Ramil de Jesus’s words prior to the season are true: the coaching staff focused hard on both the conditioning and every skill set and this is the reason why La Salle will be a tough nut to crack.
The Lady Spikers have left no stones unturned since they dropped their 1st match of the season against NU.
PH volleyball fans have heard it time and again that everything starts with a good receive. And when the defensive aces started to deliver, everything became fluid for the Taft squad.
La Salle has found all the pieces to solve the Ateneo puzzle. All they need to do now is take a page from the Lady Eagles’ style of play and just let go and have fun. — By Mac Dionisio