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UAAP Season 79 Women’s Volleyball Survival Kit: La Salle versus UST

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It feels like it’s been ages but the last time the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses defeated the De La Salle University Lady Spikers post-elimination round face-off was in the UAAP Season 72. Behind the towering Dindin Santiago, sweet-setting Rhea Dimaculangan, and MVP Aiza Maizo, UST toppled a veteran-laiden La Salle squad with legends Paneng Mercado and Cha Cruz.

Since then, however, UST’s magic fluttered as Ramil De Jesus’ volleyball machine kept churning out titles and stars. After appearing in the Season 74 Final Four as the fourth seed, the Tigresses floundered and recuperated only recently, making the Season 79 Final Four. While UST celebrated, DLSU systematically trekked to the Final Four for the 17th time in De Jesus’ 19 seasons of coaching the squad.

The Lady Spikers make greatness routine. It is, of course, their dedication and unwavering trust to the La Sallian way that has kept them on top for nearly two decades.

To Kungfu Reyes’ admission, the Tigresses are ahead of schedule. Coming in last Season 78, Reyes envisioned a three to four year route back to a UAAP title.

Having already reached their goal, are the Tigresses ready to make another jump? Or will the Lady Spikers rise again like the cream of the UAAP crop that they are?

We take a look at the match-up.

Offense is key


UAAP 79 NU vs. UST - Laure-9823Both squads boast their own defensive aces. The Tigresses finished the elimination round on top of the digging category. Ej Laure and Cherry Rondina steadily hold the backline with liberos Rica Rivera and Pat Rasmo. The Tigresses turn their digs into powerful attacks from the wings. While the Tigresses have not transitioned well into middle attacks, their wingers in Laure, Rondina, Dimdim Pacres, and Caitlyn Viray have all provided clutch points in the long rallies where UST thrives. The Tigreses shot up the spiking ranks, finishing second.

Therein lies the problem: La Salle has read the UST offense well in both of their elimination round matches. The Lady Spikers, the league’s best blocking team, have stifled UST, winning in straight sets twice. Much of La Salle’s success came from their composure in tight situations: when UST tried to comeback, the Lady Spikers shut the door with a flurry of their own.UAAP 79 ADMU vs. DLSU - Cheng, Macandili-0474

Aside from ranking first on blocking, La Salle also tops the receiving list and places fifth in digging. Dawn Macandili, La Salle’s decorated, spunky libero, deservedly gets most of the credit for La Salle’s tremendous work on the floor. But open hitters Tin Tiamzon and Des Cheng have had their share of solid outings in the backline.

All this mention of defense is important. In volleyball, action zips constantly: from the first touch to the set to the attack. La Salle approached this flow with military precision. UST, safe to say, have seemed like a work in progress.

For UST’s floor defense game to work, they need their blocking to be on-point and siphon attacks towards their best defenders. While UST might have stronger left-side attackers, La Salle has the edge on every other skill that adds up to a good offense.

Mind Games


UAAP 79 DLSU vs. NU - Dy-4810Perhaps La Salle’s biggest advantage is their mental stability and all the confidence they should already have entering Saturday’s match-up. Not only did La Salle pickup both elimination round games, they also hold a twice-to-beat advantage. Beating La Salle once is tough enough; beating them twice in a season has been impossible for every team not named Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles.

But UST does have an out. In both Season 77 and 78, the Lady Spikers needed the twice-to-beat incentive: the Lady Bulldogs, led by Myla Pablo, took home the first game in 77 while FEU mustered an epic comeback in 78 to force a do-or-die tiff. La Salle still had their core of veterans in both those seasons but, still, they opened both Final Four campaigns uncharacteristically laking effort.

The Season 79 Lady Spikers are much younger and have not always played with the “killer instinct” that a championship team flaunts against teams they should have beaten (see Round 1 vs UP, both Ateneo matches).UAAP 79 UST vs. UP - Meneses-8188

Laure and Rondina have been the consistent backbone of the Tigresses, unaffected by who is playing on the other side of the court. It’s everyone else around them that needs to step up. Ria Meneses cannot have another one-point, zero-blocks outing against La Salle like she did in Round Two. While Kungfu Reyes insists his confidence on the UST bench, the Tigresses can’t afford to shuffle around their lineup due to “off-days” from their veterans. There is no more room for off-days.

Kim Fajardo


UAAP 79 DLSU vs. ADU - Fajardo-7635Plain and simple, Kim Fajardo is the best player in this series. No setter from the UST side has shown they can match her savvy and playmaking. With Fajardo in the mix, La Salle’s attack will always be dynamic and deadly.

If UST hopes to minimize Fajardo’s effectiveness, they’ll have to figure out how to effectively serve against La Salle. Ateneo has adapted their own targets against La Salle which UST can adapt.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball – from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado’s setting.

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UAAP LXXIX Women’s Volleyball Finals Survival Kit: Ateneo versus La Salle

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Usually, we don’t do things six times in a row

Humans are instinctively always looking for something new, something fresh. We’re wired to grow tired.

It’s why we don’t like eating the same meal six times in a row, why we don’t watch a movie six times in a row.

In the world of sports, however, watching the same two teams fight for the title for six straight years can still offer a whole new level of excitement.

For the sixth straight year, the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals will have archrivals Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles and the De La Salle University Lady Spikers duking it out for the country’s top collegiate prize.

The Season 79 Finals feels like the Episode Six of Ateneo and La Salle’s Star Wars-esque saga. And we’ll take a take a look at the storylines heading into the series.

A New Chapter


All season long, the story for both teams was how each would deal with the loss of their programs’ pillar players. It’s been written about ad nauseam.UAAP S78 WVB Finals G3 - Alyssa Valdez

Ateneo were pegged to find another star after Alyssa Valdez, who started the Loyola-based squad’s renaissance, exhausted her playing years. Instead of anointing a new phenom, the Lady Eagles banded together and shared the attention, pressure, and spoils that had been squarely on Valdez’s shoulder for five years.UAAP 78 Volleyball DLSU vs. AdU - Soyud, Galang, Reyes-8350

La Salle lost more key pieces compared to Ateneo. Starters Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, and Cyd Demecillo’s spots were hard to fill, and the Lady Spikers had to do plenty of adjusting mid-season to find the indelible chemistry that has powered La Salle teams a near two-decade dominance of the UAAP.

Glancing at both team’s elimination round matches, Ateneo seem like the overwhelming with the demoralizing way they have beaten La Salle twice.

But this is the Finals. In Season 76, Ateneo dropped both their elimination round matches to La Salle, who booked a ticket straight to the Finals. But come the championship series, not even La Salle’s thrice-to-beat advantage could stifle Ateneo’s stomp to title. There is no telling with these two historically-entrenched rivals.

Out of Comfort


Analytically, there is a lot to be said of this premiere match-up. But, to put things simply, both teams will just be looking to push each other out of their comfort zone.UAAP 79 F4 ADMU vs. FEU - Morado-2304

In terms of scoring options, both spread the wealth quite evenly because they each have tremendous setters. Without Valdez, Ateneo setter Jia Morado’s balletic on-court movements have been greatly magnified.UAAP 79 F4 DLSU vs. UST - Fajardo-1407

Playing her final year, La Salle’s Kim Fajardo has shown that she can still carry a team even without her usual attackers.

Both setters are hard to predict, using a plethora of sets and a faster tempo compared to the rest of the UAAP.

To get a setter out of her game, one needs to serve hard and tactically. But once again, both teams have about the same number of high-level servers. However, Morado has shown better play when her receivers fail to give her good first touches (despite being in the bottom half of the league in reception and digging, Ateneo is still far and away the best attacking team in the league).

On the other hand, La Salle’s league-best reception alarmingly dipped when against Ateneo. Production from their open hitters will be imperative, especially in transition, when good first and second touches are scarce. Also, in both matches, La Salle’s tremendous defense has had no answer for Ateneo opposite Michelle Morente, who leads the match-up in scoring.

La Salle will undoubtedly have adjustments for everything Ateneo throw at them. Sitting in the driver’s seat of this match-up, the Lady Eagles might need to show the tremendous mid-match adjustments that has won them so many games over the years.

In Episode 6 of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker returns and leads the resistance in stopping the construction of a second Death Star.

Without antagonizing either team, Ateneo, in this series, will be trying to stop a second La Salle title bid.

This title will be huge for both teams moving forward in this new era, as plenty of the players from both sides will continue be key characters in future seasons.

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UAAP Season 79 Women’s Volleyball Survival Kit: Ateneo versus FEU

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When Ateneo toppled La Salle for the first seed in the last day of the elimination round, there was plenty of jubilation. The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles, lacking star hitter Jhoana Maraguinot, overcame the odds against a hungry De La Salle University Lady Spikers side.

The Lady Eagles have been beating the odds the entire season. After losing superstar Alyssa Valdez, Ateneo were pegged to struggle in a transition phase. Instead of finding their next individual star, the Lady Eagles banded together and displayed a devastating balanced offense.

But getting the first seed barely feels like an advantage, especially when the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws await as the most dangerous fourth seed in recent history.

With a nearly intact lineup, the Lady Tamaraws were bound to dominate Season 79 but stumbled due to their own inconsistencies. But, on the back of a miraculous three-game winning streak, the Lady Tamaraws barged into the Final Four in their very last match.

Although Ateneo took both elimination round meetings over FEU, both encounters dragged into a fifth set that either could have won.

Last season, FEU nearly #ShaqTheWorld after forcing a twice-to-beat La Salle into a do-or-die match for a Finals berth. The Lady Tamaraws are looking to take another leap and make the Finals again since last appearing in Season 70.

Can the Lady Eagles stamp their sixth straight Finals ticket? Or can the Lady Tamaraws finally take down the Ladies from Loyola? We take a look at the match-up.

Optimal rotations


UAAP 79 ADMU vs. DLSU - Morente-0499

Both Ateneo-FEU games came down to getting into the optimal rotation. For the Lady Eagles, there isn’t one rotation that can be considered their strongest. But any time they have three spikers or any time Michelle Morente is in front, setter Jia Morado weaves the most magic. Morente going to the back also doesn’t dampen Ateneo’s momentum as the returning opposite hitter serves, defends, and receives at a high level.

UAAP 79 FEU vs. NU - Palma-7779

For FEU, on the other hand, there is a considerable drop-off when either Remy Palma or Bernadeth Pons are in the back. Having Palma, the team’s best middle blocker and vocal leader, in the back hurts most, as there is a considerable difference in height and offensive capabilities between her and sophomore Jeanette Villareal.

FEU coach Shaq Delos Santos has remedied this by moving sharp-hitting opposite Toni Basas to the open hitter position and having Heather Guino-O play opposite. With Pons and Basas both playing open, FEU always has a strong offensive threat in front.

Still, the Lady Tamaraws can’t afford to lose steam whenever Palma isn’t in front. That’s how they lost both matches to Ateneo.

The trash-talking Kapampangan Remy Palma has been a treat to watch as she played for her life in FEU’s last matches. FEU needs to maximize their graduating captain’s presence upfront if they hope to make the Finals.

Clutch decision making


Both teams are tremendous on the transition, able to keep points alive, and counter with a solid attack.UAAP 79 ADMU vs. FEU - Morado-2407

For Ateneo, it’s easy to see why they thrive in tight situations: they have Jia Morado. If there is any star that has risen the most in the post-Valdez renaissance, it has to be Morado.

Although the Lady Eagles do not rank anywhere near the top of the league in reception and digging, they are still far and away the best spiking team in the league. This is mostly because of Morado’s stubbornness: no matter how ugly the first touch is, Morado will insist on getting the ball to their best option. Only one other setter in the league displays the same calmness and brilliance in difficult situations like Morado, and she’s not playing for FEU.UAAP 79 FEU vs. UE - Cayuna-6010

The biggest story coming into Season 79 for FEU was finding Gyzelle Sy’s replacement as the starting setter. That transition has been like throwing pasta at the wall and seeing which of their setters stick. Earlier in the season, it was Gel Cayuna, then Kyle Negrito took over heading into the Final Four.

While it will be hard to see either of them match Morado’s setting, FEU do not need that type of production. Especially in the most important stages of the match, the Lady Tamaraws can get by with their best hitters taking the shots. It’s up to their setters to make those reads and limit the errors that diminish their momentum.

Overall, the Lady Eagles look like favorites in this match-up. They have a deeper lineup and a twice-to-beat advantage.

But the Lady Tamaraws have built themselves into a scary upset machine with tools and quirks that have given Ateneo problems this season. If FEU can catch a few more breaks, they can finally get over Ateneo after trying for so many seasons.

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Lady Spikers versus Lady Eagles Round One: Survival Kit

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Different characters, same old rivalry

For both sides, the upcoming Ateneo-La Salle clash barely feels like a Finals rematch, although the buildup towards their first Season 79 clash feels similar in many ways.

The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles, a team that have ridden the force of nature that is Alyssa Valdez for the past five years, have had to reconfigure their attacks without their Phenom.

The De La Salle University Lady Spikers, a volleyball fortress that in turn had leaned on foundations Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, and Cyd Demecillo to weather Valdez’s storm, have arguably needed to survive a bigger facelift than their rivals.

From Seasons 74 to 78, an Ateneo-La Salle clash in the Finals was an inevitability. It was the rivalry that spearheaded local volleyball to its current flourishing state.

Season 79 has been a harder sell for the general state of chaos in the standings. Along with Ateneo and La Salle, any combination from six teams could realistically make the Final Four or even the Finals.

Still, Ateneo and La Salle are on top of everyone heading into tomorrow’s marquee game. This early in the season, there really isn’t much on the line except for a better hold of a twice-to-beat advantage and school pride. But it is in these pressure-packed matches that new protagonists are born, and both teams need new leading characters.

The current Best Setters in the Philippines


The biggest reason why both teams are still playing at a high level is that they both have luminary setters with different approaches.UAAP 78 Volleyball DLSU vs. ADMU - Fajardo-4661

La Salle’s Kim Fajardo is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining — critically acclaimed and effective in its delivery of suspense and surprise.UAAP 78 Volleyball ADMU vs. DLSU - Morado-4764

Ateneo’s Jia Morado is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey — unpredictable frame after frame of beauty and innovation.

Fajardo has a knack for willing herself into a match. Last season, she dominated the Lady Eagles in every way she could, devastating in blocking, serving, scoring, and setting La Salle’s attack. Playing in her final year, the Batangas native has never seemed more confident and in control of her role as the team’s singular leader.

In her fourth year, Morado has reached a mind-blowing level. She’s two steps ahead of the opposing defense — and even her teammates, sometimes. Ateneo’s low-fast offense is a joy to watch and Morado executes with precision on nearly every touch.

But it’s been most staggering to watch Morado’s improvisation. Most setters thrive on crisp receptions and digs from their backline to keep the attack dynamic. Unlike La Salle (first in reception, fourth in digs), however, Ateneo rank poorly in both defensive categories (sixth in reception and eighth in digs). Still, Morado is the league’s top setter and the Lady Eagles are the best attacking team.

Add to the fact that La Salle are the best blocking team, and Morado’s importance is further elevated. The Ateneo attack will need to keep La Salle’s blockers on their toes. Whether the Lady Eagles’ ball control suddenly takes a leap or Morado bends the offense by sheer will, Ateneo will need to aggressively attack the Lady Spikers.

New hitters


While having steady setters is great, someone will still need to finish off plays. For the two squads, the open hitter spots have been interesting to observe.UAAP 79 NU vs. ADMU - Maraguinot-9956

The best open hitter in this matchup is undoubtedly Ateneo’s Jhoana Maraguinot. She’s the most experienced, while also standing out, statistically. If her match against the University of the Philippines is any indication, then Maraguinot appears to have already addressed her early dry spell and should be primed for a big game against La Salle.UAAP 79 ADMU vs. FEU - Tolentino-2190

The Lady Eagles also have Kat Tolentino, literally the biggest addition to their roster. At 6-foot-2, she towers over her blockers, but she isn’t too quick and agile since she was converted from middle to open hitter. When Ateneo have problems on defense, they plug in veteran Kim Gequillana who has improved tremendously as a hitter, complimenting her deadly service game.UAAP 79 DLSU vs. UST - Cheng-1454

But La Salle’s open hitters are bigger question marks. Tin Tiamzon and Desiree Cheng are both adjusting to the bigger load and to filling in for all-around players in Galang and Demecillo. While Tiamzon and Cheng are steady everywhere else, their scoring has been sparse.UAAP 79 UP vs. DLSU - Tiamzon-3151

Tiamzon has had her moments recently, scoring in double-digits in three for their past four matches. Cheng has struggled a bit more since she is still getting her bearing after being sideline by an ACL tear.

Ramil De Jesus could always pull out another surprise from the bench. He has veterans Arianne Layug and Justine Tiu, and highly-touted sophomore May Luna waiting for their shot.UAAP 79 DLSU vs. FEU - Luna-8353

Recently, De Jesus has been experimenting with a defense-offense swap between Cheng and Luna in crucial moments. Whether it takes two or three players, La Salle can’t let Ateneo’s open hitters outperform theirs. Against UP — La Salle’s lone loss so far —  Tiamzon and Cheng managed eight combined points, just half of UP veteran Nicole Tiamzon’s 16-point tally. The gap can’t be that wide if La Salle want to win.

Everywhere else, the matchup is pretty even. Ateneo’s middle blockers are not as good at blocking as La Salle’s, but they make up for it with quicker hits.UAAP Season 79 Women's Volleyball - NU def ADMU - Michelle Morente

Ateneo opposite Michelle Morente is an all-around dynamo, while La Salle utility hitter Kianna Dy is brutally good at the net.
UAAP 78 Volleyball DLSU vs. UE - Macandili-0491La Salle’s Dawn Macandili might be the best libero in the Philippines right now, while Ateneo’s Gyzelle Tan makes her impact whenever she gets a chance to set.

With all of these factors, the team that executes better in crucial rallies takes this one.

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FEU Lady Tamaraws: UAAP LXXIX Starter Pack

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IT WAS 9PM and the Petron Tri-Activ Spikers were in the last hour of their practice at FEU’s R. Papa Gym. Bernadette Pons and Remy Palma, weren’t part of Petron’s lineup yet, but they were two of the sweatiest players there.

Two of the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws’ pillar players, Pons and Palma do have a lot to sweat about.

In UAAP Season 78, the Tamaraws were a game away frkm making it back to the Finals, taking the eventual champions La Salle Lady Spikers to a do-or-die tiff in the semifinals. But FEU came short against the most experienced team in the league.

This season, the Lady Tams are arguably the most experienced.
UAAP 78 Volleyball F4 FEU vs. DLSU - Pons-8093
Pons is in her fourth year and projects to be a frontrunner for the MVP award.
SVL College FEU vs. ADMU - Palma-5034
Super senior Palma grew into FEU’s vocal leader and on-court motivator.
SVL College NU vs. FEU - Basas-1427
Third year opposite hitter Toni Basas broke out of her shall last season and turned into one of the deadliest scorers in the league.

Among the crowded list contenders, FEU is one of the few teams who won’t rely on a young player in the starting six.

They also only lost one player. On paper, the Lady Tams look formidable both on offense and defense.

Which is why Pons and Palma kicked up their preparation.

“Marami ngang nagsasabi na malaki ang potential namin this year. Instead na gawing pressure ‘yun, ginagamit namin siyang motivation. Kaya ito, kung may pwede pa kaming gawing extra para mag-improve, ginagawa namin,” Pons told Tiebreaker Times.

“‘Yun naman talaga ang kailangan namin. Sa mental aspect magkakaralunan this year. Halos lahat ng team merong skills. Sa pag-handle ng pressure sa mga malalaking laro, feeling ko, kaya naman mag-shine,” added Palma, a Psychology major.

Coach Shaq Delos Santos believes his team is at the peak of their developmental curve.

“Every year ang goal namin was maka-Final Four. Sa nilaro namin last year at sa composition ng team, hindi na talaga sapat na Final Four lang. lAng approach pa din is one game at a time pero kailangan mas consistent na kami,” Delos Santos remarks.

“Confident ako na may confidence ang players namin.”

FEU, however, didn’t lose just any player; they lost starting playmaker Gyzelle Sy. The last of an elite breed of pint-sized setters, Sy’s return smoothened FEU’s offense last season.UAAP 78 Volleyball AdU vs. FEU - Sy-3081

As a replacement, they brought in third year setter Kyle Negrito. Last season, Delos Santos had already given Negrito playing time in crucial situations, although her effectiveness paled to Sy’s brilliance.

“Malaki ang tiwala ko kay Kyle. Sa ensayo naiilabas niya ‘yung laro niya. Kailangan niya na lang matuto ilabas sa mga game ‘yung galing niya,” Delos Santos claimed.

For her part, Negrito knows she can’t replace Sy nor will she ever play like the former Best Setter.SVL13-FEUvUST-Kyle Negrito

“Ang sinabi sa akin ni coach, huwag kong pilitin na gayahin si Ate Gy. May sarili akong laro at approach, ‘yun ang kailangan ko ipakita,” Negrito expressed.

“Doon ako humuhugot ng lakas ng loob kasi si coach pati ‘yung teammates ko may tiwala sa akin. So dapat lang mag tiwala ako sa sarili ko.”

—-

IT WAS 10PM at the R. Papa Gym and Pons was still doing one-on-one drill with one of the coaches. When she finished, she took off her shoes and walked to the showers.

“Papahingi na ako kuya,” she said to one of the reporters.

“Kakailanganin ko ‘yun. Wala nang pahinga pagdating ng UAAP.”

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