There is no denying that the Season 78 iteration of La Salle’s women’s volleyball team is one of the strongest in recent memory.
But it still came as a big surprise when the Lady Spikers dominated archrival Ateneo in 3 sets when the 2 teams faced off in Round 1 of the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament.
Veterans Mika Reyes and Ara Galang’s veteran moves provided stability, Kim Fajardo’s all-around performance served as the spark plug, Majoy Baron and Dawn Macandili were both on-point on both ends of defense while Kim Dy served her purpose well as the team’s secret weapon.
Everything worked for the Lady Spikers that day which gave the new fans of the sport a glimpse of the old La Salle volleyball aficionados fell in love with: unyielding, intense and just a joy to watch, all missing back in Season 77.
All that, however, is now nothing but water under the bridge as the second-round tussle promises to be a bigger challenge for the Ramil de Jesus-led squad with the #1 spot and school pride all on the line.
Here are 4 reasons why La Salle will emerge on top anew this Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena:
1. Deep, deep bench
One look at La Salle’s bench and you’ll know what the team’s biggest advantage is this year: a reliable back-up in case some starters have the occasional ‘bad day.’
Having the likes of Eli Soyud, Carol Cerveza, Mika Esperanza and power rookies Tin Tiamzon (if Cyd Demecillo starts) and May Luna waiting in the wings, all raring to prove their worth, is already a feat in itself.
This is how Ramil de Jesus adapted to the changing times. In the past, he’d only have 6-8 players who are battle-ready. This year, it is as if all of his wards are all on equal footing skills-wise.
The Lady Spikers’ starting unit is strong and they’ve flexed their muscles countless of times this year but we’ve all seen that they, too, are humans who are prone to mistakes when they helplessly dropped a game against UST.
If de Jesus can keep his bench players in line and ready for war, La Salle’s ship won’t be easy to sink.
2. Ateneo’s weakness is La Salle’s strength
Ateneo’s weakness—floor defense—is La Salle’s most glaring strength all thanks to libero Dawn Macandili.
Macandili’s digging prowess is just over the top. Though she is not one of those who are exceptional in ball anticipation, she makes up for it with her speed which makes her more like Jen Reyes than Lizlee Ann Gata.
And if you’re going up against a setter like Jia Morado, who probably has an entire alphabet’s worth of plays, and thinking attackers like Alyssa Valdez and Jho Maraguinot, you’d go for agility over good ball reading.
The La Salle-Zobel alum must, at least for now, set aside her hunger to taste her first championship in the collegiate ranks and treat Sunday’s titanic battle as just another day in the office.
Macandili will surely be the Taft crew’s x-factor come game time but only if she decides to show up composed, calm, and collected.
3. Swag is back
One of the biggest disadvantages of social media nowadays is how online bullying has prevented some of the most talented players from doing their thing inside the court.
In fear of being judged and misinterpreted, some would choose to hide emotions and tone down celebrations in exchange of peace of mind which is a sweet deal if you come to think of it.
But clearly, this is not the case for the Lady Spikers, especially for graduating player Mika Reyes.
One of the most talked about moments during Ateneo and La Salle’s first 2016 encounter was when Reyes served a cold-blooded single block on Alyssa Valdez which was eventually followed by a stare down at the net.
Naturally, it launched memes and fan wars but for the middle blocker, who says this instance should be a non-issue, she won’t change her style of play just because it didn’t sit well with other people.
This is La Salle’s brand of play this year. Ramil de Jesus’ girls know their strengths which makes them fearless on and off the court.
It worked in the first round and you shouldn’t be surprised if the swag makes another special appearance come Sunday.
4. Kim Fajardo
When was the last time a setter outscored both her teammates and her opponents in a match? Yup, you got it. It happened when playmaker Kim Fajardo showcased a stellar performance for La Salle and finished with 13 points against defending champion Ateneo.
This is what sets Fajardo apart from her peers. She is a decent blocker. She delivers killer drop balls. And her serves (7 aces against the Lady eagles in Round1) are like missiles homing for a specific target.
The Batangueña was hesitant when her head coach named her team captain prior to the tournament’s kick off but that is all distant memory now as she has already embraced her new role as a leader by example.
The challenge now is to pace her teammates and make them forget about how they breezed past the Lady Eagles back in February.
Fajardo must win the mind games in order for her attackers to take care of the physicality of the match. It is her responsibility to keep everyone’s eyes sharp and minds focused.
Confidence is crucial but too much of anything could be fatal. — By Mac Dionisio