MANILA, Philippines—In UAAP Season 79, De La Salle University did not play in a five-set match until the last game of its campaign — the marathon win over archrival Ateneo de Manila University that gave them the women's volleyball title.
Fast-forward to UAAP Season 80, and two of the Lady Spikers' first three games have already gone the distance.
Against University of Santo Tomas in their season-opener, they weathered a remarkable performance from Sisi Rondina to win in five sets. They swept University of the Philippines last Saturday, but then nearly wasted a two-set cushion over Far Eastern University on Wednesday before recovering in the deciding frame.
For DLSU head coach Ramil de Jesus, these tough games can only be a good thing for the defending champions.
"At least, makikita mo kung ano pa 'yung kailangang ayusin sa team, and mate-test mo 'yung character ng team," said de Jesus, who is looking to guide the Lady Spikers to a third consecutive women's volleyball title
"'Yun ang good thing doon. At least, may mga rotations ka na makikita mo kung anong adjustments ang pwede mong gawin. Ngayon pa lang, nakikita mo na pwede ka mag-adjust eventually."
De Jesus made plenty of changes over the course of the match as Arriane Layug and Carmel Saga saw plenty of time, as did May Luna who often subbed in for Tin Tiamzon in the final three sets.
De Jesus was glad that his reserves delivered good plays, with Layug in particular coming up with a clutch kill in the fifth set. However, he also admitted that his substitution patterns meant he has yet to come up with a truly solid rotation.
"Siguro, para magamit 'yung ganoong klaseng rotation, siguro mayroong kailangan ayusin sa team," De Jesus acknowledged.
Nevertheless, the multi-titled mentor stressed that he cannot afford to show his frustration, lest it rubs off on his players. He was clearly disappointed with the Lady Spikers in the third set of their match against FEU, when they squandered a match point and allowed the Lady Tamaraws to extend the game.
"Hindi mo na kailangan ipakita sa mga players, kasi alam mo naman, medyo nada-down sila kapag ganoon," said De Jesus. "So i-encourage mo na lang pagdating ng third and fourth."
Ultimately, these early tests should only sharpen the Lady Spikers as they progress in their title defense.
"Maganda na itong pinagdadaanan namin ngayon, kasi mas nakikilala mo 'yung character nga ng team," said de Jesus. "Mas makikita mo kung ano pa ang dapat ayusin sa team."
La Salle faces its toughest test of the season so far on Sunday, when they take on National University in a battle of unbeaten teams.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)