It took him a few seconds, but Ramil De Jesus could not remember a time when his De La Salle University Lady Spikers entered the Final Four without a twice-to-beat advantage.
But after back-to-back disappointing performances to end the UAAP Season 81 elimination round, the Lady Spikers find themselves in precisely that situation.
For once, they’re the underdogs facing a hungrier University of Santo Tomas side, as the explosive duo of Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure proved to be too much.
At this point in the season, De Jesus confesses his squad simply didn’t want to win as much as the Golden Tigresses. In their playoff match last Wednesday, the 11-time UAAP champion coach rued some late calls that didn’t go their way. Still, he insisted his team should have overcome them.
“Nakita ko sa galaw na mas gusto ng UST manalo. Medyo tight galaw ng players ko tapos hindi na rin naging maganda ‘yung tawag ng mga referee. May mga times na didikit kami, tatawag ng mga hindi ko ine-expect na ganoong tawag ang ibibigay ng referee sa amin sa ganoong klase ng game,” De Jesus said.
“Galing sa talo eh, ‘yun ‘yung sinasabi ko eh. Kung mas gusto ng mga bata manalo, magagawa naman ‘yun eh. Siguro, kailangan pa ng maturity and leader sa loob ng court.”
The search for a reliable leader and scorer has defined La Salle’s season. Most of the time, it was rookie Jolina Dela Cruz taking the reins. But the 19-year old could only do so much, especially in high-pressure situations.
De Jesus then admitted that this lineup is far from the strongest he has fielded in 21 years at the helm of the Taft-based program. The pride and tradition of being a Lady Spiker has mostly carried the current batch.
“May mga times kasi na talagang ‘yung tradition, ‘yung winning tradition nandoon. Tapos, kahit hindi naman ganoong kalakas ‘yung lineup mo, dala naman ng mga bata ‘yung pride eh. This year, hindi ko masasabing malakas ‘yung lineup ng team ko, pero naniniwala sila na malakas ‘yung team nila,” said De Jesus.
“Malaking bagay ‘yun at kailangan maniwala sila ma ganoon pa rin ‘yung team nila. Sabi ko sa kanila na hindi pa naman tapos. ‘Yung malaking pinto na dati, lumiit ‘yung pinto. Kailangan pa rin natin pasukin kung maa gusto niyo. Mas uhaw ‘yung UST kasi matagal na rin silang wala sa Finals. Kailangan mas uhaw kami kung gusto namin manalo.”
But with no room for another loss and needing to win twice against UST, De Jesus wants to limit Rondina and for his players’ to show the same desire as the Cebuana.
“‘Yung game plan [ay] na ma-lessen ‘yung unforced errors namin and then ma-control si Sisi. ‘Yung leadership ni Sisi ‘yung bumubuhay doon sa UST. ‘Yun ‘yung sabi ko sa team ko, na kailangan na mas gusto natin,” he shared.
“Kailangan we want it more, sabi ko sa kanila. Makikita natin na ‘yung UST na nakuha ng twice-to-beat, mukang hindi bibitaw. Kung gusto natin makuha ‘yung Finals, kailangan paghirapan.”
The Lady Spikers are going for an elusive fourth straight title. They had a chance in Season 76, but lost to the Ateneo Lady Eagles.
De Jesus also expressed the difficulty of winning four straight titles in college.
“‘Yung pagkuha kasi ng four-peat, dapat nasa tamang tao, tamang leadership. Ngayon, very competitive ‘yung UAAP. Kung makakapasok ka Finals, talagang deserving ka doon kasi lahat naman ng teams nag-improve talaga. Hindi ‘yung dating over-over lang,” he opined.
“Siguro mailap kasi dumarating ‘yung punto na mauubusan ka rin ng player. ‘Yung unang try namin sa four-peat, kumpleto players ko noon. Ngayon naman, maraming nawala. Iba kasi in-tact talaga ‘yung ibang teams. ‘Yung opportunities na nabitawan, kasalanan na rin ng mga bata ‘yun, kasalanan na rin ng team ‘yun.”