UAAP: With La Salle on the ropes, Kim Fajardo urges seniors to step up

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 01 2019 10:38 PM

UAAP: With La Salle on the ropes, Kim Fajardo urges seniors to step up 1
The De La Salle Lady Spikers settled for the third seed in Season 81. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines—For the first time in 11 years, the De La Salle Lady Spikers are heading into the Final 4 without being armed by an all-important twice-to-beat advantage.

A stunning four-set loss to University of Santo Tomas on Wednesday in their playoff game relegated the defending champions to the third seed, while giving the Golden Tigresses the semifinals bonus in the UAAP Season 81 Final 4. It was a brutal result for the Lady Spikers, who are eyeing a fourth straight title this season. 

It is an entirely foreign situation for La Salle. The Lady Spikers have made it to the Finals for ten consecutive seasons; each time, they were either the No. 1 or the No. 2 seed. They were suspended from the UAAP in Season 69, and finished in sixth place in Season 70. Since then, however, the Lady Spikers have always secured one of the top two spots in the rankings.

Former La Salle setter Kim Fajardo, who was part of the capacity crowd that watched the game at FilOil Flying V Centre on Wednesday, saw several reasons for the Lady Spikers' struggles.

"Kasi una kong naiisip siyempre, seniors. Though nakikita natin na nagta-trabaho talaga sila, pero sabihin natin na kulang pa," Fajardo said after the game.

Fajardo, who won the UAAP title with La Salle in Seasons 75, 78 and 79, noted that in previous games, the Lady Spikers had gotten major contributions from rookie Jolina dela Cruz. Against UST, however, dela Cruz was limited to just 12 points.

The three-time UAAP Best Setter had hoped that someone from the team would serve as the spark, while their top scorer was held in check.

"Kanina si Jolina, hindi naman masyadong (naka-score). Siguro naghahanap sila ng fire para mag-start, para mag-start silang lumaban. Kanina kasi wala eh," Fajardo observed.

"Kunwari tambak, or hindi man ganoon kalayo yung score. Pero alam mo 'yung pag may naka-score na isang beterano, tapos makita ng mga bata na lumalaban na tuloy-tuloy? 'Yung consistent 'yung galaw?" she explained.

"Siyempre doon sila mabubuhayan, na 'O lumalaban si Ate, tara laban tayo.' Doon sa sinasabi ko na 'laban tayo,' hindi sa salita lang. Yung puso ba, buo na parang lalaban tayo."

Unfortunately for the Lady Spikers, they were unable to do find that spark. It was not for lack of trying -- skipper Desiree Cheng and May Luna did their best, particularly in the third set which La Salle won, but they faltered against the tireless UST floor defense.

Cheng and Luna wound up with just 9 points, and La Salle, as a team, had 33 kills. The UST pair of Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure had 40 of their team's 52 attack points.

Part of the problem, said Fajardo, is that their offense lacked strength.

UAAP: With La Salle on the ropes, Kim Fajardo urges seniors to step up 2

"Sa technical side naman, parang kulang talaga eh. Kahit 'yung mga palo kanina, walang ngipin, walang pangil," she noted. "Sa kanila (UST) marunong dumepensa, maganda 'yung pwestuhan ng tao sa kabila."

While La Salle gave up several free balls, Rondina and Laure hammered away. Even the Lady Spikers' net defense -- ranked second in the league -- could not hold them down.

Even as she asks for more from La Salle's seniors, Fajardo also hopes that the young Lady Spikers will also step up -- and hopefully, serve as an inspiration to their older teammates.

"Siguro dapat malaman na rin ng mga bata na by this time, kailangan din nilang mag-step up talaga. Hindi pwedeng palaging seniors. Kailangan pati sila mag-contribute, na kahit quality time man lang," she said.

"Pag pinasok ka doon, makitaan ka man lang. Kasi ako, naging senior ako siyempre. Pag nakita ko yung mga bata diyan na 'Laban ako, bigay mo sa akin, papatayin ko.' Kahit yung mga five years, four years lower sa akin. Talagang gaganahan din ako mag-laro siyempre," she explained.

The veteran playmaker expects the Lady Spikers to regroup soon, even as she acknowledged that they have every reason to feel down after such a big loss. But Fajardo also remains hopeful that La Salle can still get the job done, and return to the Finals for the 11th season in a row.

To do so, they should draw inspiration from all the hard work that they have done under the guidance of Coach Ramil de Jesus.

"Knowing sa training ha, yung training ni Coach Ramil, 'di biro. Sana maging isa mga hugot nila yun," said Fajardo.

"Sa lahat ng pinagdaanan nilang training, maisip nila pag nasa laro na, yun nga, dumaan sila sa ganitong hirap. Ibibigay lang ba nila yun, na matatalo lang ng ganito?" she added.

La Salle will try to keep its bid for a fourth straight championship alive on Sunday, when they play UST again at the Mall of Asia Arena.

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