MANILA, Philippines – The 18-day break between games did three-time defending champions De La Salle no favors as the Lady Spikers fell prey to arch-rivals Ateneo Lady Eagles in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball finals.
“Ang hirap noong medyo nakapagpahinga ng matagal,” admitted La Salle Coach Ramil de Jesus after his players lost to Ateneo in four sets Wednesday.
“Sabi ko nga, nakakatakot ‘yung mahabang pahinga, at ‘yung kalaban tuloy-tuloy at well-motivated dahil andaming dinaanan na trials sa kanila na naka-survive sila hanggang makarating sila sa Finals,” he said.
La Salle had not played since February 15, when they defeated the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs to complete a 14-game sweep of the elimination round and earn an outright Finals berth along with a thrice-to-beat advantage.
The long lay-off worked against his team, de Jesus admitted, as even La Salle’s famously intense training sessions could not replace the feel of an actual competitive game.
“Iba talaga ‘yung game kaysa doon a training,” he said.
De Jesus also acknowledged that the thrice-to-beat advantage – meaning La Salle needed to win only twice to clinch a fourth straight title, whereas Ateneo need to win three times – may have made his team complacent.
“May mga aspects na ganoon din siguro ang iniisip ng mga bata. Kahit ako, hidni ko iniisip, mas gusto ko sana manalo, pero dhini mai-aalis sa mga bata ‘yun,” he said. “Naging complacent sila.”
“Siguro dahil dito, nagising sila,” he added.
Ateneo’s remarkable performance was also a surprise. De Jesus said: “Hindi ko naman ine-expect na ganoon din katas ang ilalaro ng Ateneo, so nahirapan kami mag-adjust noong second set at noong fourth set. Talagang maganda ang nilaro ng Ateneo.”
He pointed out that it was not only star Alyssa Valdez who came up big for the Lady Eagles.
“Andun si (Michelle) Morente, andun si (Ella) de Jesus. Maganda talaga ‘yung nilaro, even ‘yung setter nila,” he said. “Sobrang naka-focus lang siguro ‘yung team kay Valdez, so akala hindi gagalaw ‘yung iba.”
“Maraming maling nagawa,” he stressed.
But La Salle has also been in this situation before. In Season 74, armed with thrice-to-beat advantage, they also lost Game 1 of the Finals to an Ateneo team led by Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer and Dzi Gervacio, but recovered to take the next two games.
“Dapat paghandaan ulit sa susunod na game,” said De Jesus. “Sabi ko, mas dobleng effort ang dapat gawin namin, kasi hindi pwedeng maulit. Kung gusto naming makuha, dapat mas doblehin pa namin, mas doble pa doon sa ginawa namin noong elimination.”