Under Ramil De Jesus, the De La Salle University Lady Spikers have turned greatness into a routine.
Since he took over in 1997, the Lady Spikers of Taft Avenue have made the Final Four 17 times. After trouncing the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses Saturday afternoon, La Salle entered the UAAP Finals for the ninth consecutive year — the longest running streak among all UAAP sports.
For De Jesus, who had coached his 300th match early this year, this run had special bearing. After winning the title last year with a core of graduating seniors Cyd Demecillo, Mika Reyes, and Ara Galang, the nine-time champion coach hadn’t been sure about his chances this season.
They may have hit a few bumps along their journey, but this young batch of Lady Spikers anchored by veteran setter Kim Fajardo, still managed to reach a level of excellence on-par with De Jesus’ tradition.
“Last year kasi, ‘yun ang talagang ine-expect ko na papasok ng Finals. Pero this year, sabi ko maraming nawala,” De Jesus recalled.
“So siguro gawa na rin na, gusto rin nila na patunayan sa sarili nila na wala na si Mika Reyes, wala na si Ara, si Cyd Demecillo, so kailangan na i-cover nila yung mga position na nawala,” he added, as Aduke Ogunsanya, Tin Tiamzon, and Des Cheng have filled in ably for the players they lost.
Still, De Jesus lauded Fajardo’s exemplary play-making as the key to his team’s success.
“And andyan naman din yung setter, so kung ano ‘yung galaw last year, siguro mas kayang lampasan kasi andyan naman yung setter, nag-i-improve pa. Kim Fajardo siya eh.
“Malaking bagay na may Kim Fajardo ka sa loob ng court,” he remarked about his skipper.
La Salle now await the winner of the Ateneo de Manila University – Far Eastern University series for their match-up in the Finals, which begins on Saturday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Whether his team gets a sixth shot at rivals Ateneo or renews an old flame against FEU, De Jesus is banking on the trademark preparation that has kept them consistently at the top of the league.
“Kung sino ang mas gusto sa dalawa, eh di ‘yun ang harapin. Mapa-FEU or mapa-Ateneo, parehas naman kailangan talunin yun para mag-champion ka. So walang dapat piliin,” the La Salle hall-of-famer declared.