If you’ve been keeping count at home, you probably know that this would be the site’s fourth La Salle-Ateneo primer we’ve done for the season, the third by yours truly. Don’t worry, I can promise you that there won’t be an ounce of redundancy in this article in relation to the past ones.
In the three articles, we’ve written about this historic rivalry, we’ve covered everything there is to be said about both teams, from how they stack up statistically, their differences from previous seasons, coaching matchups, and even rumored lineup shakeups. Although, in light of recent events, you can throw all of that analysis out the window.
We’re in the Finals. If there’s anything that sports has taught me, it’s that literally anything can happen, no matter how predictable volleyball can get sometimes. But I digress. It’s still so much fun turning rocks and finding things to write about both these teams. Jusmiyo, these two teams are anything but dull. Let’s get down to analyzing this Finals matchup, for one last time.
It’s Ateneo’s Championship to Lose
When you are without your team’s best player and team captain, and about to face a team that already beat you twice this season, common sense reminds us that we’re basically screwed.
La Salle already couldn’t beat Ateneo twice in last season’s Finals when they had an arguably stronger lineup. This season, Ateneo had EVERYONE from their title-winning team come back, while adding some much needed height and athleticism in rookie Bea De Leon. Even when Ateneo struggled this season, they still looked marvelous, smiling their way to their school’s first undefeated elimination round.
Of course, Alyssa Valdez has been beastly all season. In my opinion, she has already cemented herself as the best women’s volleyball player in the country, and she’s still in college. Now that she’s about to graduate and finish her thesis, there really isn’t anything that can stop her and her team from winning the title. She’s just too classy to underestimate an opponent.
We now live in a world where really good pro teams find it efficient and “better for the long term” to rest their star players. Try to watch a Spurs game, expecting to see Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili unleash the Basketball equivalent of a continental buffet upon their opponents. Only to find out that they’re unable to play due to rest.
That has become a slippery slope even local teams have recently began to slide on. But what takes Alyssa Valdez to the Pantheon of local sporting greats, is that she understands that she can’t take a game off. She apprehends that any good sportsman (or woman) never disrespects their opponent by taking it easy on the opponent no matter how weak they seem.
Plus, I can take anyone who hasn’t watched a lick of volleyball or my hypothetical child to any game Alyssa’s in, because I can rely on her to put on the best show she can. Whether the game be a regular scrimmage, or be it against the Lady Warriors, you’re never wasting your time in watching her play. As a fan who pays for tickets, what more can you ask for. She makes it hard for scribes like me to describe her greatness in each and every game she’s played this season, as she has been phenomenal. One day, I’m going to run out of superlatives to use for her. We may have to start inventing words.
In short, Ateneo’s the hands down, feet up, toes out, the favorite to win the title this season, but the Lady Eagles still have to watch out for that Crane Kick!
The Crane Kick
I think I speak for everyone when I say that injuries are the worst part of sports. Watching Ara Galang grimace in pain during that last game was deflating. It was the first time in my life when I heard an arena full of people gasp in unison. The worst part about injuries are the replays that loop over and over, so we can relive the pain.
Injuries ruin sports, simply put. Instead of us being treated to another chapter of Ateneo-La Salle volleyball, all we might be left with are a bunch of ‘what ifs’. What if Ara had never injured her knee? What if La Salle had just stepped up and won their first game against NU? We’ll never know.
You have to feel for Ara Galang. She was having the best season of her career, showing off her unmatched all-around brilliance, and now she has to deal with her injury and excruciatingly long rehab process. Having spoken to many athletes, the pain of injuries aren’t derived from the injury itself, it’s more on the dread one feels knowing there’s nothing they can do to help the team win. But Ara’s going to push through it. She’ll be back next season.
Needless to say, La Salle is the definitive underdog for this series, an unfamiliar role for the proud Lady Spiker Volleyball program. The situation is far from hopeless for the Lady Spikers. Like Daniel-san in the first Karate Kid movie, they can still win, they’re just going to need to find their Crane Kick to take down their Billy Zabka.
Just what or who is La Salle’s Crane Kick going to be? Well, thanks to the volleyball zealot, Coach Ramil De Jesus, La Salle has an incredibly deep pool of players to choose from. If only he could mush his replacement players together like Play-Doh, and form a player like Ara. Rookie, Christin Soyud, has the height and great wingspan, but lacks the polished volleyball skills of a veteran. Carol Cerveza has the skills and veteran composure developed after years of baking in Coach Ramil’s cryogenic volleyball chamber, but Cerveza lacks the terrifying power and leaping ability needed to plow through a defense. La Salle also has the often antagonized, Desiree Cheng. Though she plays a different position from Galang, Coach Ramil can very easily slot her in Galang’s place in the rotation. Cheng, however, has been playing through a sprained MCL in her left knee, which is also the reason for her extended stints on the bench for the past few games. There really isn’t enough time for La Salle’s young pieces to wax on and wax off to develop that killer Crane Kick.
For La Salle to have a chance in this series, all of their veterans need to simply do more. Fellow open spiker, Cyd Demecillo is not only going to need to score more, but she has to take over Ara’s leadership responsibilities and carry the load, while she’s in the back row as well. Middle Blockers, Mika Reyes and Mary Joy Baron have to wrestle control of the net away from Ateneo’s middle blockers. Liberos, Dawn Macandili and Cienne Cruz, each need to be a steadier defensive presence for their team.
All the stuff I mentioned are basically things that Galang did for her team – blocking, digging/receiving, and scoring. She has carried her team all season. Now it’s time for her team to carry her to another title.
Although that’s really easier said than done. Ateneo was in the exact position La Salle was in last season. They know the feeling of being underdogs and how being counted out can bring a team together, so don’t expect Ateneo to suddenly lie down and make mistakes when they face La Salle. La Salle needs to force Ateneo into committing errors.
The equivalent of La Salle winning the title this year is Daniel-san winning with his final move, only La Salle needs to Crane Kick Ateneo thrice to earn their title. La Salle’s chances are bleak.
My sports writing idol, Bill Simmons, is the ultimate sports fan. He wrote in his NY Times best-selling book, The Book Of Basketball that in sports, there’s really only one in 5000 of a chance for anything extraordinary to happen. This goes for game-winning shots, improbable comebacks, the underdog winning it all over a heavily favored foe, and things of this nature. In 4999 games and sporting events, chances are, nothing’s special is going to happen. But on that one time, finally, it’s glorious, we get addicted and we fans endure those 4999 insignificant occurrences to get a taste of that one time again. The Philippines winning silver in FIBA Asia and going to the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, last season’s UP Women’s Table Tennis varsity team, this season’s NU Men’s Basketball Title, and Pacquiao over Mayweather in May are all examples of that one time we yearn for. Maybe La Salle can join that group in our collective memories. Or maybe, they won’t.