The highly-anticipated opening day clash between the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles and the National University Lady Bulldogs turned out to be a lopsided one, as the back-to-back defending champions easily swiped last season’s second-runners up in straight sets, 25-21, 25-19, 25-14, yesterday at the Filoil Flying V Arena.
NU main guns Jaja Santiago and Myla Pablo led the Lady Bulldogs with 11 points each, while Jorelle Singh followed up with 6 markers.
On the other hand, Ateneo were once again led by superstar Alyssa Valdez’s 18 points, while Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon chalked up 13 and 10 points respectively.
After the game, Tiebreaker Times had the chance to catch up with NU head coach Roger Gorayeb and ask him about his assessment on his team’s first game of the season.
Gaining the mental edge
On paper, NU’s roster is capable of holding its own against Ateneo. They have a strong middle blocker in Santiago; a series of capable hitters in Myla Pablo, Jorelle Singh and Aiko Urdas; and a reliable libero in Bia General.
With that said capability, NU amassed a couple of strong starts despite not having won a single set against the Lady Eagles. They had a series of scoring runs and error-free possessions, before Ateneo found a way to conjure an effective counter attack.
“Ang pumatay sa amin mga error namin. We were leading by five nung first set at 14-8 nung second set,” Gorayeb said when asked about his assessment on NU’s first game of the season. “Hindi pa siguro, at this point, hindi pa sila siguro ganoon katatag psychologically kasi na-rattle sila doon sa paghabol ng Ateneo.”
Gorayeb also stressed that his team had lost its mental composure when Ateneo took extra efforts to regain the lead. If NU had been a mentally tougher team, that would have made a big difference in battling a highly confident Ateneo team.
“Sabi ko nga sa timeout sa kanila, ‘bakit kayo natataranta? Eh sila ‘yung naghahabol?’ Kapag ganoon, nakakalimutan nila ang ibang responsibilidad nila. Kapag hinahabol kami, doon kami [nagkakaroon ng] masyadong madaming error,” Gorayeb added. “Ang ayaw ko doong makita ‘yung pag hinahabol sila, natataranta. Biniro ko nga sila, parang hindi kayo sanay lumamang sa kalaban.”
Hoping to find the right setter for the job, Gorayeb managed to give his three setters, Asi Soliven, Ivy Perez and Rica Diolan, significant amounts of playing time last Sunday. However, Ateneo setter Jia Morado proved to be a tough one to match, as NU only managed to come up with 6 excellent sets compared to the opposition’s 33.
“Naghahanap ako ng setter na mag-coconect kasi ‘yung isa, si Asi, maayos magset pero pagdating sa likod wala namang depensa. Si Ivy naman, nagdodoble at nagseset ng mataas at ‘yung [si Diolan] naman, ang set naman puro open,” Gorayeb remarked.
“Pero naghahanap talaga ako ng setter na madadala ‘yung mga spike,” he further elaborated. “Parang naging trial and error pero magconnect din iyan, wag naman sanang matagal kasi hindi rin tama.”
The season is still very young
Some of NU’s veteran players saw action in a lot of off-season volleyball tournaments over the past months. Santiago had stints in the Shakey’s V-League, Philippine Superliga, and even took part in the country’s national volleyball team that competed during the AVC U23 and SEA Games tourneys. In addition, Pablo, Perez, and General also played for different teams in the PSL.
With that luxury, many had expected NU to play more fluidly compared to what they displayed in their opening match against Ateneo. However, many people tend to forget that semi-professional inter-club leagues play very differently from the way college ball is played.
“Ang sinasabi ko lang sa kanila, ‘yung experience niyo doon na dinala niyo dito dapat matibay [na] kayo. Ang problema kasi doon, sa mga club [leagues] na ganoon, ‘yung teammates mo matibay. Alam mo na selection mga iyan, hindi kagaya dito, mga teammates mo hindi ganoon katibay,” Gorayeb quipped.
Also, Gorayeb pinpointed that it is only the beginning of the season and there is no reason yet to hit the panic button. The necessary adjustments will surely be made as the season progresses.
“Kung natalo kami hindi naman ibig sabihin na hindi kami [papasok ng] Finals. Pag nanalo kami, hindi naman ibig sabihin [na papasok kami] sa Finals. So, masyado pang mahaba ‘yung labanan at buti na lang sa first game namin nakita ang mga ganyan. Eh kung doon sa dulo o kalagitnaan kami magkakaroon ng ganyan na problema, hindi naman ganoon.”
“Ngayon pa lang, maiitnindihan na nila. Masyado silang [nagmamadali] sa mga kilos nila tapos pag hindi nila nagawa, nadidismaya sila.”