MANILA, Philippines—University of Santo Tomas (UST) will try to end one of the most impressive streaks in the UAAP when it takes on defending champion De La Salle University in the Season 81 final 4 at Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday.
The Golden Tigresses, anchored by graduating superstar Sisi Rondina, won a playoff against the Lady Spikers last Wednesday to clinch the second seed in the semifinals, thus arming themselves with a twice-to-beat advantage.
Another win over La Salle will send UST to the finals for the first time since Season 73, when they were still bannered by iconic players such as Aiza Maizo and Rhea Dimaculangan.
Moreover, it will snap La Salle's incredible streak of 10 consecutive finals appearances, and foil their bid for a fourth straight women's volleyball crown.
"Even pa rin ang laban sa Sunday," insisted UST head coach Kungfu Reyes after their 25-14, 25-23, 23-25, 25-19 triumph that gave the Tigresses a twice-to-beat edge for the first time since Season 73. "Ang iniisip ko muna, paano kami magre-recover."
"Gitgitan ’yung labanan, talagang neck to neck ang labanan. So ’yun muna, kailangan ko ipa-recover muna ang mga player. Then ibang usapan ulit," he added.
Momentum is clearly on the side of the Golden Tigresses, who got a tremendous performance from Rondina and another solid outing from rookie ace Eya Laure. Their supporting cast has also stepped up, with players such as Caitlyn Viray and Kacey Galdones earning their share of the spotlight against La Salle.
In contrast, the Lady Spikers have struggled to keep up with UST, especially on offense. Rookie Jolina dela Cruz was shackled to just 12 points in their loss on Wednesday, and no other player reached double digits in scoring for the defending champions. They had just 33 attack points, and shot themselves in the foot by committing 30 unforced errors.
"Nakita ko sa galaw na mas gusto ng UST manalo. Medyo tight galaw ng players ko yesterday tapos hindi na rin naging maganda 'yung tawag ng mga referee," La Salle coach Ramil de Jesus said of their loss.
It was already the second straight defeat for the Lady Spikers, who were coming off a 5-set stunner to Far Eastern University last week.
"Galing sa talo, 'yun 'yung sinasabi ko. Kung mas gusto ng mga bata manalo, magagawa naman 'yun. Siguro, kailangan pa ng maturity and leader sa loob ng court," de Jesus said.
UST has now beaten La Salle twice this season as well, having swept the Lady Spikers when they met in the first round. Still, Reyes warned that they cannot afford to take the defending champions for granted, especially as they are playing with their backs against the wall on Sunday.
"Hindi mo pwedeng sabihin na vulnerable 'yung La Salle," he said. "Any time ’yung heart of the champion, hindi mo pwedeng alisin. Naka-instill na 'yan."
The last time La Salle failed to reach the finals was in Season 70, when it placed sixth overall after having to forfeit several games.
A do-or-die game, if necessary, will be on Wednesday at FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
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