MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The De La Salle Lady Spikers booked a return trip to the UAAP women's volleyball finals after sweeping the National University Lady Bulldogs in their UAAP Season 75 Final Four match Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Lady Spikers, seeking a third straight volleyball championship, relied on their trademark blocking en route to a 25-18, 25-23 and 25-18 victory over the Lady Bulldogs.
It is the fifth straight Finals appearance for the Lady Spikers, who also earned their 14th straight win in Season 75 after losing their opening game to the University of Sto. Tomas Tigresses.
"Noong nag-start sa first set, ang taas ng adrenaline on both sides," said DLSU coach Ramil De Jesus. "Nakuha lang namin sa service."
"Marami silang naging service error, at 'yun ang naging advantage namin hanggang sa magkaroon ng kumpyansa ang team," he added.
Four players scored in double-figures for the two-time defending champions, with Ara Galang firing 15 and Mika Reyes adding 14. Veterans Abi Marano and Michele Gumabao added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
After a close start in the first set, the Lady Spikers pulled ahead following the first technical timeout. Marano, last season's Most Valuable Player, spearheaded La Salle's charge as they raced to a 16-11 lead.
Despite a late rally by NU, the Lady Spikers would not be denied as Reyes and Galang scored the last three points of the set for La Salle.
In Set 2, unforced errors by the Lady Spikers along with a strong effort by NU's DinDin Santiago allowed the Lady Bulldogs to take a 16-12 lead, their largest of the match.
"Sinabi ko lang sa mga bata na 'yung floor defense, medyo naging matamlay," said De Jesus. "Sabi ko dapat walang sinasayang na bola, at 'yung mga unforced error hindi dapat nangyayari sa team."
A balanced effort allowed La Salle to claw back into the game, with Marano tying the set at 21-all. Galang tied the set for the last time with a down the line hit to make it 23-all.
NU's Carmina Aganon then hit the ball outside, and was denied by La Salle setter Mika Esperanza in the next sequence as the Lady Spikers came from behind to snatch the set.
In the third set, Galang and Reyes teamed up to turn a 10-all deadlock into a 19-10 advantage, as the Lady Bulldogs had trouble with their reception and miscommunicated on the floor several times.
Though Santiago was able to rally the Lady Bulldogs, she also committed a crucial service error that gave La Salle the match point.
A service ace by Gumabao gave La Salle the set and allowed them to return to the Finals for the fifth season in a row.
They will face the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the UAAP women's volleyball finals for the second consecutive season.
"Ready kami kahit sino na team," said de Jesus. "Nadaanan na naman namin both teams, so kahit sino siguro."
"It's the finals," he added. "Dapat isipin na talaga, ito na ang real battle."
Santiago finished with 19 points for the Lady Bulldogs, but no other player scored in double-figures for National U, who were making their Final Four debut in women's volleyball.
With their women's volleyball team making the UAAP Finals, La Salle is now assured of winning the UAAP general championship, ending UST's 14-year streak.