MANILA, Philippines – Frustration has begun to set in for University of the Philippines (UP) after their Final 4 hopes in UAAP Season 81 took another blow on Wednesday with a straight-sets defeat to University of Santo Tomas (UST).
Tabbed as a surefire Final 4 contender in Season 81 after a superb run in the preseason, the Lady Maroons have floundered in the UAAP women's volleyball tournament. With two games left in their elimination round schedule, they are at 6-6, and in the middle of the pack instead of at the top of the league standings.
Their loss to the Golden Tigresses on Wednesday put UP on the brink: they need to win their last two games just to stay alive in the Final 4 race, and their fate is no longer in their hands.
"We can't say that we're okay with what's happening or where we are in the standing right now," said UP's veteran libero, Ayel Estrañero, who was subbed out in the second set against UST after an erratic performance.
What makes the loss all the more frustrating for the Lady Maroons is that they were oh-so-close to forcing a fourth set. They were already at set point, 24-22, when Jessma Ramos was called for a net touch that coach Godfrey Okumu contested. An attack error by Marian Buitre in the next rally forced deuce, and UST reached match point when Ramos was called for another violation – this time, for over-reaching.
Okumu was disappointed with both calls, and felt that they were unfair. Estrañero also pulled no punches when discussing the officials' decisions in those instances.
"The very crucial calls were always in the end. Or like, we're when about to finish the game, there comes the really bad calls," she said.
"So it's frustrating, because the players, us players really worked hard for the entire set, and then just when we're about to take a set, that's when they take it away from us," she added.
"So, I'd like to also express that kind of frustration."
Estrañero acknowledged that the Lady Maroons didn't help themselves by committing unforced errors, and added that "the responsibility to win a game is on us players." Still, the whistles had a clear and adverse effect on the Lady Maroons.
"It's just really frustrating to have those kinds of calls in a crucial game, in really crucial moments of the set," she stressed.
Yet as dire as their situation is, not all is lost for the Lady Maroons, and they are still hopeful of forcing at least a playoff for a Final 4 spot.
"The fight is still there," Estrañero said. "The mindset to play our best in every game and just to give it our all is still there."
Buitre, who scored a team-high 16 points against UST but was blocked by Eya Laure in the final rally, also made it clear that they cannot afford to dwell on their frustration, especially with a crucial match against National University coming up.
"Frustrating, oo, pero… that frustration only makes you want to push more, to push more sa mga upcoming games. So this could serve as a lesson for us," she said.
"Siyempre, the fight still continues," Buitre also insisted. "It's a long season pa. Kahit two games na lang 'yan, like what I said before, there's really no time to slack off."
"Wala naman kaming ibang choice kun'di mag-push pa lalo," she added.
UP is currently two games behind UST and Far Eastern University (FEU) in the league standings, with the Tigresses and the Lady Tams toting identical 8-4 win-loss records. The Lady Maroons need to win their last two games, and hope that either UST or FEU lose their last two assignments, in order to force a playoff for the last semifinals spot.
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