MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time in eight seasons, University of Santo Tomas has the opportunity to enter the Final 4 as one of the top two seeds.
A brutal loss by De La Salle University to Far Eastern University (FEU) on Sunday opened the door for the Golden Tigresses to snatch a twice-to-beat advantage in the semis for the first time since Season 73.
The defending champions could have clinched the second seed with a win over the Lady Tamaraws, but instead they fell in five sets -- setting up a playoff with UST for the No. 2 spot in the Final 4.
The Golden Tigresses took care of their own business when they beat National University in four sets on Saturday to keep themselves in the hunt for a semis bonus. At the time, UST head coach Kungfu Reyes said they were no longer thinking about it.
"Habang andoon ako sa court kanina, 'yun ang iniisip ko. Laban na ito, regardless ng kung anong magiging outcome. Ang importante ngayon, sabi nga namin kahapon, i-secure namin ang 10th win namin," Reyes said on Saturday.
"Nakuha naman namin. Another story na pagdating ng semis kasi mag-iiba na 'yung trend ng laro diyan, mag-iiba na 'yung bakbakan," he added.
With a chance to snatch a semis bonus for the first time in eight years, UST star Sisi Rondina said she and the Golden Tigresses won't divert from what has worked for them all through UAAP Season 81.
"Kami pa din ito, walang magbabago," Rondina said late Sunday evening. "Maglalaro kami ng may pinaglalaban, lalong-lalo na sa goal namin na gusto naming makamit noon pa."
"Mag tatrabaho kami, para may baon kami ever game, and walang mababago. Lalaban hanggang dulo, walang iwanan," she added.
The last time that UST made the Final 4 -- in Season 79 -- the Lady Spikers dismissed them in just four sets. This time around, however, the Golden Tigresses have every reason to be confident that they can upset the defending champions.
This year, the Lady Spikers appear more vulnerable than they have in a long time. They lost back-to-back games in the first round -- first to University of the Philippines (UP) in five sets, then to UST in straight sets. They lost again to UP in the second round, then dropped a winnable game to FEU to conclude the elimination round.
For the first time in recent memory, the Lady Spikers could not immediately secure a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4.
However, Rondina remains wary of the defending champions, who traditionally bounce back from defeats with dominant performances.
"Lahat ng team, bumabawi -- lalo na't galing sa talo," she pointed out. "Depende kung paano nila i-treat 'yung talo, as a negative or positive."
"Sabi ko nga, kami at kami pa rin 'to, under nila Coach Kungfu, at sa paraan nila Coach Kungfu kami hahawak," Rondina added. "Sila ang may alam kung paano kami mag-laro. Ang gagawin na lang namin is to execute well and give our best performance every game."
Rondina further emphasized that UST cannot afford to relax against a powerhouse La Salle team that they have beaten just twice since she got into the team in Season 77.
"Bilog ang bola," she said. "Basta walang complacency, walang magre-relax. Magta-trabaho at mag-perform ng maayos, makinig sa coaches, mag-enjoy, at most especially, tiwala sa kasama at sarili."
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