MANILA -- Veteran Jolina dela Cruz has emerged as the all-around driving force for the De La Salle University Lady Spikers as they swing back to title contention in the UAAP Season 85 women's volleyball tournament.
While super rookie Angel Canino earned the lion's share of the spotlight, Dela Cruz has provided ample support in every category -- from offense to defense -- for the undefeated Lady Spikers.
In La Salle's first round sweep over the Lady Bulldogs last Wednesday, the fourth-year spiker tallied 11 points and 10 excellent digs, again exemplifying her support role as Canino top-scored with 14.
Dela Cruz then proved her consistency to returning mentor Ramil de Jesus in the immediate rematch to kick off the second round on Saturday, chipping in 12 points with three blocks to go with nine excellent receptions.
For her consistent production matching her proven leadership for the unbeaten Lady Spikers, Dela Cruz earned the Collegiate Press Corps UAAP Player of the Week from March 22 to 25.
Dela Cruz emerged as the unanimous choice ahead of previous winners Canino and Adamson University's Trisha Tubu, La Salle's Mars Alba, Ateneo de Manila University's Faith Nisperos, and Far Eastern University's Jov Fernandez.
She is the first non-rookie to earn Player of the Week honors this season after a historic stretch from Canino, Tubu, and University of Santo Tomas' Josh Ybañez.
"Siguro, nakaka-boost siya ng confidence ng bawat isa, kasi nga sinasabi ni Coach Ramil na bihira mabigyan ng chance 'yung mga team na magkaroon ng 7-0 o 8-0 and ma-sweep yung first round," Dela Cruz said.
"Gri-nab lang namin 'yung opportunity na 'yun para mas ma-boost 'yung kumpiyansa namin."
It was an emotional stretch overall for a La Salle community already on cloud nine following the Lady Spikers' winning streak, culminating with a return for De Jesus who had not taken the court since the Season 84 finals due to personal reasons.
"'Di po namin ine-expect kasi kanina dumating siya, [pero] hindi po namin alam na magko-coach siya ngayon," Dela Cruz continued. "'Nung nasa dugout siya kasama pa namin siya, binibiro-biro niya kami na hindi naman [siya magko-coach], doon lang sa likod.
"Pero pinilit namin siya, 'Weh, mag-coach ka na,' ganyan. Napilit naman namin siya. Thankful kami kay coach Ramil kasi yun nga, nilaban niya yung araw na 'to and para sa kanya din 'yung laban namin."
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.