Three-time, defending champions De La Salle University Lady Spikers looked like the same old, fundamentally-sound contenders when they took down perennial rivals Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles during the opening weekend of the UAAP Season 81 Women’s Volleyball Tournament.
Two months later, the Lady Spikers have shown holes in their armor, more than past La Salle teams. On the other hand, the Lady Eagles have zoomed to 10 straight wins, pulling off both convincing straight-setters and tight five-set escapes.
The tone has shifted for both programs as they head into their second-round meeting. La Salle head coach Ramil De Jesus is fully aware of the implications.
More than pride, La Salle are playing for breathing room in the standings. Heading into Saturday, the Lady Spikers have a tenuous hold on the second seed with an 8-3 record. Both the UST Golden Tigresses and the FEU Lady Tamaraws are nipping at their heels, only half-a-game behind with identical 8-4 cards.
In Ramil De Jesus’ two decades as head coach, the Lady Spikers have almost always had a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. With his current squad
still rounding into shape, De Jesus knows they could greatly benefit from a cushion in the semis.
Beating Ateneo is step one to that goal.
“Sa akin, kung mabalikan namin ang Ateneo, good para sa team kasi ‘yung standing, ‘yun ang importante sa akin ngayon. Kung sino man ang talunin namin, kung sino man daanan namin, ang importante sa amin ‘yung standing,” said the 11-time UAAP champion mentor.
“Maganda kung mag-number two kami kasi alam ko medyo imposible na yung mag-number one eh. So ‘yung number two ang kinakapitan namin.”
De Jesus was also quick to acknowledge the Lady Eagles as one of the top contenders this season, saying he and his staff had known this since the preseason. Sweeping the season series will require adjustments and execution for La Salle.
“Alam naman namin since noong off-season pa, kasi sila ‘yung makikita mo bawat rotation ang tatangkad, tapos medyo malalim ang bench, maraming mapapaikot,” De Jesus emphasized.
“Siguro kailangan talaga namin paghandaan pa kung ano dapat i-improve pa sa team. Noong nakaharap namin sila noong first round, nagulat sa amin. Sana magulat ulit.”