The UP Lady Maroons have made great strides in the past year. They finished the UAAP with a 5-9 record despite losing Kathy Bersola to an injury and yet they figured in four five-setters (1-3). If anything they showed marked resiliency under their coach Jerry Yee.
During the past 12th season of the Shakey’s V-League, UP finished the Collegiate Conference with a 2-5 record. While it might not sound much, it is the wealth of experience for the young team that is important for Yee. Seven matches yet they played 30 sets. They won 14 sets and lost 16. What that translates into is a team that is a tough nut to crack and is learning to win.
In the recently concluded Reinforced Open Conference, UP finished with a 4-4 record and took third place behind eventual champion PLDT Home and second placer Philippine Army. In the bronze medal match, they defeated Navy twice. That was impressive considering Navy had a more veteran crew.
For their UAAP Season 78 opener, the Lady Maroons faced a taller UE Lady Warriors squad but tall just doesn’t cut it. UE in their first year under Francis Vicente were horrible. They went 0-14 and won only one set while losing 42 sets. They looked to be better this season. Or not.
When you think about it, both UE and UP have teams with a similar composition — a young squad with a few veterans. Yet the differences are vast. While, of course, UE doesn’t have the more attractive pool that UP will attract, that doesn’t mean they cannot field a competitive team. What is oft overlooked is the mental aspect of the game. Am not sure how the old school coaches regard that. In this new world of intense recruiting, high stakes volleyball, and increased scrutiny by the media and the public, adjustments must be made more than simply fundamental training and drills. That’s where the mental aspect comes to play.
UE gamely fought UP in the early goings of the first and second set but horrific errors on the Lady Warriors part, coupled with the excellent floor and net defense of the Lady Maroons, took the fight out of them. When their libero Kathleen Arado couldn’t even properly receive the ball, then how much more the rest of the team that struggled with their attacks?
When they needed a leader there was no one to step up. They scattered their points and Shaya Adorador was their leading point producer with a measly seven.
The Lady Warriors’ body language was there for all to see. You could see the weight of last season still on their shoulders. Their shoulders sagged and they hung their heads. When the gave up consecutive points especially in the third set, you could see the surrender on their bodies. It was a sad sight to see them struggle to cope and they could only embrace struggling teammates and put on a brave smile with nary a word said. Even their post-match singing of the alma mater was painfully silent. Couldn’t hear a peep out of the players or their few supporters in the jampacked Filoil Flying V Arena.
While UE played UP better in the third set, I thought that the latter’s game went down seeing that they could easily take down their opponent. That match point ended on a service error was even more galling. UE shot themselves in the foot.
UE’s problems should not take away from the way UP played. As previously mentioned, their floor defense was much better until that third set when their focus wavered. I thought that the Lady Maroons didn’t allow too many balls to hit the floor and that their twin and alternating liberos Princess Gaiser and Arielle Estrañero did a great job. The Lady Maroons had 45 blocks to the 41 of UE. That says something about better recognition and commitment to their opponents who are taller.
Nicole Tiamzon, who led the team in scoring last season, played well on both defensively and offensively. Together with Bersola and Marian Buitre, they made life difficult for UE that had to give so many freeballs to the Lady Maroons because they couldn’t receive or set.
It should also be noted that UP didn’t have any player in double-digit scoring although they had three players with nine points in Diana Carlos, Justine Dorog, and Tiamzon. Bersola and Buitre contributed seven points each while rookie Isa Molde added five (and to think that Sheen Chopitea who played well for UP in the V-League didn’t play much).
It’s a good three-set win for UP (25-20, 25-13, 25-21) that would like to work on their killer instinct. As for UE? Back to the drawing board is an understatement.