MANILA, Philippines – The De La Salle University Lady Spikers are determined to show that they have the heart of champions in the second round of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament, after an eventful first round that saw them lose back-to-back games for the first time in four years.
The Lady Spikers endured an up-and-down start to the season – they won their first three games, before dropping back-to-back contests to University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas. This marked the first time that they had a losing streak since the finals of the UAAP Season 77 tournament.
La Salle righted the ship with wins over University of the East and Far Eastern University, but it was clear that the first round of the season had already tested them.
"Sinasabi ko rin sa team na kailangan matigas 'yung character," said La Salle head coach Ramil de Jesus, who has had to shuffle his starting line-up amid injuries to Desiree Cheng and the inconsistent play of his middle blockers.
"Sa bawat teams na na-encounter namin, makikita mo 'yung leader doon, medyo matigas 'yung character," he pointed out. "So kailangan na ganoon din."
After the first round, La Salle leads the league in serving (2.28 aces per set), and is ranked second in setting (7.20 excellent sets per set). They are an above average team in terms of receiving and digging, ranking third in both skills. But they only rank fifth in spiking (27.52%), and fifth in blocking (1.8 blocks per set).
For all their struggles on offense, however, La Salle's system and discipline remain constant, and at 5-2, they are still in good position to challenge for a Top 2 spot heading into the second round.
De Jesus is confident that with more practice, his team can steadily improve upon these skills as they continue in the tournament.
"Ready pa naman sila i-improve ang sarili nila sa bawat training," he said. "Sabi ko nga sa kanila, hindi naman tayo talented katulad ng ibang team, so nadadaan lang sa tiyaga."
With that in mind, the multi-titled mentor has high expectations of his team as they enter the second half of the season.
"Mas mataas na lalaruin and mas solid na galaw like nag-iisa sila, and ‘yung siguro, mas mabalikan ‘yung mga tumalo sa amin noong first round," said De Jesus.
The Lady Spikers, for their part, are ready to accept their coach's challenge. Indeed, veteran open spiker Tin Tiamzon said that heading into the second round, they are determined to show that they have "the blood of a champion."
"Dapat hindi namin papakawalan nang ganun ganun lang kasi iyon, pinaghirapan namin at pinaghirapan din ni coach," she said. "Tinyaga niya kami, every training, every game. Iyon lang. Push lang po sa second round."
"Hindi namin makakalimutan 'yung sinabi ni coach na kung ano ang nakasulat sa jersey namin," added middle blocker Lourdes Clemente. "Ang La Salle, hindi nagpapatalo and may pusong champion."
The Lady Spikers open their second round schedule against University of Santo Tomas on Sunday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo. The Golden Tigresses swept the Lady Spikers in their first round meeting, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17.
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