MANILA -- She may not have been present in the venue, but Milena Alessandrini loomed large in University of Santo Tomas' (UST) upset victory over De La Salle University on Wednesday afternoon.
The Fil-Italian open spiker is likely to sit out the rest of UAAP Season 81, after suffering a partially torn ACL in her left knee, along with a grade 3 sprain in her MCL and LCL. This, after she landed awkwardly late in the second set of their game against Far Eastern University (FEU) on Saturday.
The Tigresses left a spot open for the sophomore during introductions, and even did their hair in Alessandrini's trademark style.
"Para kay Amiga 'yung bun na ito," Sisi Rondina would say after the match.
"Signature niya 'yung bun," added rookie ace Eya Laure.
And they made Alessandrini proud with the way they played. The Golden Tigresses put together their most complete effort of the season in hacking out a 25-20, 25-22, 25-17 sweep of the Lady Spikers. They hung 41 attack points on La Salle, and committed just 18 unforced errors.
Rondina, after a shaky start to Season 81, exploded for 19 points -- including a truly sensational kill in the first set. Laure moved to the open position, and put up 15 points to match Alessandrini's average.
Coach Kungfu Reyes stressed that their victory -- their first win over La Salle since Season 78 -- was in honor of Alessandrini, their "Amiga" who might not play again this year
"Big win, big win para sa amin kasi nga dedicated din yung laban para kay Amiga," said the coach. "Yun din ang sinasabi namin sa kanila na maging motivation ang pagkawala ni Milena."
The coach had been concerned about how they can make up for Alessandrini's production. The reigning UAAP Rookie of the Year averaged 15.5 points per game before suffering her injury, and in the wake of her exit, the Tigresses fell apart against FEU.
Against La Salle, they showed that at least for one game, they thrived without their towering open spiker. The Tigresses were efficient on their offense, and hounded La Salle into a poor attacking game. The Lady Spikers converted just 28 of 124 spike attempts, and had no answer for Rondina for most of the contest.
"Nakaka-impress," said Reyes. "Na-impress din ako."
"Basta itong game na ito, all the way, para kay Milena ito. Sa mga Tomasino, at sa mga sumusuporta sa amin," he also said. "Sabi ko nga sa kanila, Milena nakikipag-patayan eh, napilay na. Tayo din. Tayo yung may capacity pa na ilaban siya."
The question for UST now is how they can sustain their momentum. They improved to 3-2 with the win, tying La Salle and Far Eastern University in the standings. They can add another to the win column when they take on the erratic National University Lady Bulldogs on Saturday.
"Ta-trabaho kami na laging 'yung goal namin, dapat naka-set," vowed Rondina. "Dapat nasa mindset na. 'Yung mga trabaho namin, 'wag makalimutan. Alam naman ng mga bata iyon."
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