MANILA, Philippines—"Uncharacteristic." This was how the Ateneo Lady Eagles described their net defense on Saturday after they failed to register a single kill block against their arch-rivals.
The Lady Eagles are the best blocking team in the UAAP Season 81 tournament, averaging 2.62 rejections per set through the first 11 games of the tournament. But against the defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers on Saturday, their towering frontline faltered.
The "Katipunan Skyline" had no blocks in a stunning 17-25, 13-25, 23-25 defeat to La Salle. Despite having the first, third, and fourth best blockers in the league in Maddie Madayag, Bea de Leon, and Kat Tolentino respectively, Ateneo's net defense was ineffectual against the Lady Spikers.
"That's very uncharacteristic," admitted de Leon, who averaged 0.6 block per set heading into the game. "Looking back at the game, they found the ways through it. I barely remember even touching one . . . They really found ways to do it. Uncharacteristic talaga."
Ateneo's blocking had made life difficult for some of the league's very best spikers, including Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure of University of Santo Tomas, and Tots Carlos of the University of the Philippines. But La Salle was able to solve their net defense -- thanks to the creativity of setter Michelle Cobb and the smarts of their own spikers.
"Knowing na best blocking team sila… dapat, check-check, technical when it comes to attacking," explained La Salle's Aduke Ogunsanya, who had 10 points in the win. "Ayun siguro -- yung tiyaga sa loob ng court, na hindi dapat palakasan lang, dapat lumalabas sa utak."
"Dapat, pinag-iisipan yung ginagawa para matibag namin yung blocking nila," she further explained.
Ateneo's Madayag admitted that they expected La Salle to go with hard spikes, but the Lady Spikers surprised them.
"They weren't giving that much hard spikes, puro long balls, puro cut shots. So, I don't know, nagulat lang siguro yung mga dume-depensa sa likod or something. Kasi, I mean naka-organize naman yung block, it's just the defense at the back," she noted.
De Jesus also gave plenty of credit to Cobb, who had 16 excellent sets in the game as La Salle converted 37 of their 117 spike attempts.
"Madaming variation eh, so na kay Cobbie na yung diskarte doon eh, sa setter na talaga. Hindi ko naman pwedeng gawing robot yung setter para sabihin ganito gagawin," said the coach.
"Hinahayaan ko na lang siya. May mga time na nagsa-suggest ako sa kanya kung anong play. So siguro kaya na-neutralize siguro, kasama na rin sa game plan yun, kung sino pipigilin sa kalaban," added de Jesus.
Also stepping up for La Salle was libero Carmel Saga, who had 14 excellent receptions in the game on top of 21 digs, giving Cobb plenty of good first balls to work with.
"We just remained disciplined from the very start of the set. In-instill namin sa utak namin yung sinabi ni coach na kailangan namin maging focused and maging disciplined, kasi hindi magiging madali ang pagdadaanan namin kasi lalaban din sila," said Saga.
That the Lady Spikers were able to neutralize the Ateneo net defense -- and that their middle blockers outplayed the Lady Eagles' tandem of De Leon and Madayag -- was a point of pride for the defending champions.
"Knowing Ateneo, magaling sa blocking. Three of their players, 1-2-3, doon sa list ng best blockers. So parang it's a big challenge for me, and we accepted it," said Ogunsanya.
La Salle's other middle blocker, Lourdes Clemente, had contributed 10 points in the win as well, including two of their six blocks in the game.
"May mga lapses sa game namin, pero we tried our best naman para magawa ang best namin doon sa game na 'to ngayon. Napag-handaan namin sila, pinag-aralan namin sila ng mabuti, and masaya kami kasi lumabas 'yun sa game namin ngayon," Ogunsanya said.
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