La Salle celebrates after scoring a point against Ateneo. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
The La Salle Lady Spikers came out as expected – firing away and all pumped up. Not any different from how they did in Game 1, I should point out, unlike how some make it out to be that they were lethargic and not themselves during their loss.
No. The difference this time is the Lady Spikers capitalized on the opportunities that came their way.
Opportunity #1 Taking that first set
La Salle took the first set of Game 1 yet still lost. So what is the difference in Game 2?
The match was close up to the middle of the first set with the score 12-11 in favor of the girls in green. Then DLSU rattled off five straight points that gave them control.
In Game 1 at the same stage, the score was 12-3 in favor of La Salle when Ateneo closed the set strong, going 14-13, although DLSU 25-17 won the set.
Denden Lazaro got injured with the score at 18-3 and her absence did not help Ateneo. But that wasn’t a factor in the first set that La Salle closed out, 25-14. They allowed Ateneo only three more points – a 13-3 closing blitz.
Opportunity #2 Denden Lazaro was out for the second set
If it wasn’t a factor in the first set, it sure was in the second set. The girls in blue looked rudderless on defense without Lazaro to receive and to dig them out of trouble.
Injuries are all part of the game (as is officiating) and no excuses must be made.
La Salle pounded Ateneo here and that really gave them a massive dose of confidence. A two-set led is always big for psychological reasons. You don’t want mountains to climb especially against the three-time defending champions.
Opportunity #3 Their championship mettle was on full display
Kim Fajardo was the key in this game as she set up her teammates for attacks. If the padawan that is Jia Morado showed her stuff in Game 1, the Jedi Master in Fajardo seized control of the Force in Game 2 that put La Salle on the brink of a fourth straight title. She had 26 excellent sets to the 17 of Morado.
With their attacks going, La Salle bombarded Ateneo from different angles – Ara Galang led the way with 17 points while Abi Maraño and Mika Reyes played much better scoring 14 and 11 respectively. They were factors all throughout unlike in Game 1 where they seemed reticent after being put on their heels for the first time all season.
I’d also give special mention to Maraño who really is the heart and soul of this team. Their last two title teams have really taken a cue off her fiery on-court personality. She pumps them up and she encourages them.
Some people may not like her for her on court antics but I don’t mind. Hell, anyone would love to have someone like her on their team. So ‘nuff said. She’s one heckuva volleyball player.
Looking at Ateneo for Game 2 and heading into Game 3
The biggest question is Denden Lazaro’s health. Her absence was sorely felt in the second set. In fact in the first set, it was very noticeable as the Lady Spikers won points #22-24.
In the third set, you saw how her return galvanized Ateneo and propelled them to pull back one set from La Salle. It was a gutsy return that also inspired the Lady Eagles.
That was really evident with the score at 11-10 in favor of Ateneo, she cased a checked ball going out of bounds. She apparently forgot that she was not 100% and she was limping after a few strides. And you really have to respect that desire and heart.
Denden also put them in a good position to take the fourth set but the breaks went La Salle’s way as the girls in green won.
So how is Lazaro? Well, she practiced in preparation for the next game. So she’s all right.
But you have to like the Lady Eagles’ collective response. Instead of falling apart sans Lazaro, they only lost 25-20 in the second set. The break between two sets gave them some time to adjust but it was still difficult when there is no one who naturally slides behind the blockers for a dig.
I wouldn’t say that Michelle Morente (I call her M&M) and Aeriael Patnongon were checked. Coach Anusorn Bundit just mixed it up by bringing in Marge Tejada (who scored the moment after she stepped on the court while adding five points) and Kim Gequillana (five points) who to use the vernacular was good “bunots”. They played so well that Morente and Patnongon didn’t return.
How were they inside the locker room post-loss?
They were fine. While there was disappointment, they were okay. An Ateneo sports official joked how they liked putting themselves in do-or-die positions.
Alyssa Valdez apologized for her late error in the fourth set.
And Coach Thai said that for Game 3 (of what really is an odd best-of-five series in this stepladder format), the Ateneo Lady Eagles have to have their “hearts stronger.”
All I know is that if in the second game of this finals, it was more intense, the levels will go up several notches higher. If that is even possible.