MANILA, Philippines – As they head into the UAAP women's volleyball finals for the first time in 8 years, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Golden Tigresses carry with them the lessons they learned from dethroned champions De La Salle University.
UST, bannered by Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure, outlasted La Salle in a five-set thriller in their Final 4 match, thus securing a spot in the UAAP Season 81 finals. They also denied the Lady Spikers a 10th straight finals appearance, and foiled their bid for a four-peat.
"Very thankful ako kay La Salle," UST head coach Kungfu Reyes said after their victory, witnessed by over 14,000 fans on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
He acknowledged that coach Ramil de Jesus had built an exceptional women's volleyball program in La Salle, as the Lady Spikers have won 11 UAAP titles in the past two decades – including three "three-peats."
"Meron kaming program na sarili, siyempre punta ka doon sa mga expert," said Reyes.
"Sabi nga, papunta pa lang kami, si Coach Ramil hayahay na dun sa dulo, nagku-kuyakoy na lang siya doon," he added. "So natututo kami sa kanila, kung paano sila mag-set up ng play, paano sila mag-set up ng regimen nila."
Since taking over as UST's head coach in Season 78, Reyes has compiled a 7-4 win-loss record against de Jesus and La Salle. Three of those victories came in Season 81, as they beat La Salle in the first round, in a playoff for the second seed, and of course, in the Final 4.
They failed to get a single win against La Salle in Seasons 79 and 80, but each defeat was a lesson for him and for the team, Reyes said.
"Malaking bagay doon sa pagkakatalo namin sa kanila, marami kaming natututunan. Hindi kami natatalo, natututo kami," he stressed.
"Para kaming binibigyan ng opportunity na laruin namin sila ng laruin, hanggang sa makuha namin. Sa akin, sa apat na taon ko, ngayon lang ako nanalo sa kanya dito sa MOA. Would you imagine that?" he added.
Reyes was also thankful to have gotten a "good luck" from de Jesus, whom he respects as a "living legend of Philippine volleyball."
"Ganoon pala 'yung pakiramdam pag gino-good luck ka ni Coach Ramil. Ngayon lang nag-sink in sa akin," he said. "Yung mga natutunan ko kay Coach Ramil 'pag magkalaban kami, malaking bagay. Tapos, malaking bagay din sa akin, na 'yung champion coach, ako yung ginu-good luck para sa taon na 'to, para sa finals."
UST is still waiting for its opponent, with Ateneo de Manila University and Far Eastern University disputing the other finals spot on Wednesday in a do-or-die game at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
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