New look, same old Lady Spikers, Mark Alfafara IS Tiger Power, and Where are the FEU Boosters?
Men’s Volleyball: UP Fighting Maroons def DLSU Green Spikers 22-25, 25-21, 25-14, 22-25, 15-12
Last season, most of the opening weekend games had to be played in multiple sets. This season, this match was the only one to go five sets. It was an epic duel that UP probably should have won handily, but La Salle just refused to let go.
This DLSU lineup is depleted, having lost its top two scorers and team captain, while UP has several long, wiry guys who can put up a fight against tougher competition.
But La Salle rallied hard and caught the Maroons off guard, setting up an epic fifth set in which the Green Spikers held a late, 12-9 lead only to have the Maroons score all the following points for the set. It was wild. And that’s the type of competition one should expect when heading to the UAAP Men’s tournament. Games will be close and filled to the brim with chest pounding, wild court run-arounds that can only be seen in the men’s game.
But this was probably a battle between two of the of the bottom three performers of the season. Neither will have enough to finish off the tournament’s other protagonists. But UP and DLSU games will be fun anyway.
Men’s Volleyball: UST Tigers def UE Red Warriors 25-18, 25-22, 25-21
I’ve always loved the atmosphere UAAP Men’s Volleyball Games delivered. Aside from the oozing male bravado, piercing death stares, and overall faster pace, one can hear abbreviated versions of their favorite school cheers, my favorite being UST’s “Tiger Power” mostly because I get to hear it after a Mark Alfafara spike.
This guy has to be the personification of that cheer – basically turning volleyball into an RPG when he spikes one down. You can see opposing receivers and blockers grimace in fear when they see him soar through the air for the signature kill. That’s Mark Alafafara for you, a lethal weapon who holds the UAAP Men’s Volleyball record for most points in a season – a mark he set last season when his team failed to make the Final Four.
Volleyball is all about balance and unpredictability. They’re going to need more than one scoring option if they want to even come close to making the Final Four this season. In their first game, at least, they’ve found a few candidates in Romnick Rico and Jason Sarabia, the former being the team’s captain and both being veterans of the squad. Because at some point, Alfafara will have to play in the back row and UST needs to keep opponents guessing about where the points are going to come from, because a season-long virtuoso effort from Alfafara is just not going to cut it.
The Red Warriors had several chances during each set to wrestle a set away and threaten an upset, but they just became predictable, feeding the ball to rookie wunderkind, Edward Camposano, and letting him rattle off spikes from wherever he was. Camposano is an electric scorer, but other than him, UE just could not get production from anyone else (Camposano had 17 points while the rest of the team only managed a combined 18 points with the next highest scorer contributing only four). Ideally you’d want your team to have three or four guys averaging around 10 points a game, and that’s what both of these teams need to contend for a Final Four slot.
Women’s Volleyball: FEU Lady Tamaraws def UP Lady Maroons 25-14, 26-24, 25-20
I took a lot of flak for ranking FEU third in my primer as a lot of fans really didn’t see how a team that just lost a once Best Setter of the league can still contend for a title. But this FEU team is primed for a run with the amount of talent it has. Also, Yna Papa is no slouch, needless to say.
Papa had the FEU offense churning in their debut match against the Lady Maroons as she dominated her matchup against rookie setter Jewel Lai. FEU’s indomitable frontline rotation also shined that afternoon as Geneveve Casugod and Remy Palma just had a field day stymieing UP’s spikers with block after block, eventually psyching UP hitters out, leading to multiple attack errors. Bernadette Pons was quiet early but found her groove and the cracks in UP’s defense in the latter portions of the match. Even if FEU nearly gave up a set, they were able to clean things up and get vengeance for last season’s tournament shocker.
The Lady Tams, on paper, are an amazing team with talent in all positions. But one can’t simply overlook nearly giving a set up to the Lady Maroons. It’s clear that FEU still has a lot to clean up if they want to get back to where past FEU teams have been.
(Side note before we get off FEU: Where are the FEU Boosters? They were absent all weekend and even during FEU’s PCCL game against DLSU yesterday. Come on FEU! You can’t just rely on Charm Simborio to cheer the whole team on. Even with an Arena full of people, it just seemed eerily quiet without FEU’s drum line to egg their crowd on. Comment if you know what happened.)
While UP’s quest for a volleyball renaissance didn’t quite go as planned on Day 1, they still had flashes of brilliance throughout the game. Last season’s converted setter, Nicole Tiamzon, looked amazing in her return to the open hitter position, firing off powerful spikes, but she was eventually worn down by FEU’s impeccable blocking and floor defense. Jewel Lai had mistakes that can be expected from a rookie setter, but was great at finding her spikers. But Lai just couldn’t feed Kathy Bersola enough; maybe this was by design, you’d think a team would continually try to set their best player up every chance they get, but Bersola was a none-factor in her debut. But I’m sure this isn’t going to be a constant thing. UP will eventually find its volleyball identity and take those close sets once they’ve worked the kinks out. After all, this team missed the services of Angeli Araneta and fielded several rookies who probably were playing with first game yips. UP will win four games this season, as I guaranteed.
Women’s Volleyball: DLSU Lady Spikers def AdU Lady Falcons 25-23, 24-26, 25-14, 25-17
As a fan of both teams, this game gave me enough surprises that I probably fired multiple Dove-Girl “Hwaaaaaat?!”s when the starting lineups were being announced. Adamson’s lineup at first had me confused, but when I saw it at work it all made sense. Adamson displaced Mylene Paat from her natural position at middle blocker and opted to use her at the opposite position. Most shocking was seeing Len Cortel playing libero when she’s played the opposite position her whole stay at Adamson. The lineup gave Adamson more length, and Paat, a lefty, playing opposite was like having two open hitters at each side. It shocked La Salle enough that they trailed for most of the first two sets, even giving up their first against AdU since Season 71.
But being the champions that they are, La Salle made all the necessary adjustments and proceeded to squeeze every ounce of hope out of the Lady Falcons. La Salle has a history of starting games slow, only to turn it up a notch once their backs were against the wall. It also gave DLSU fans a glimpse of what type of leader team captain Ara Galang is. She’s a quiet leader who’ll lead by example. Being a more explosive scorer than Aby ever was, Galang demolished Adamson’s defense, rattling spikes off blockers and having the ball careen into the netherworlds. Galang finished with 27 points, 5 coming off blocks. Look for Ara to take matters into her own hands again when things get out of hand for the Lady Spikers.
La Salle also had intriguing additions to their lineup. It’s like they found the mushroom Super Mario eats to grow instantly and feed it to their recruits. Camille Cruz came off the bench for Desiree Cheng and was integral in their comeback efforts. Christine Soyud started for the measles-struck Cyd Demecillo and joined in on the De La Salle block party. In total, La Salle had 71 attempted blocks and scored off 14 of them – gargantuan numbers compared to Adamson’s 50 attempted blocks and 4 scored points off of the blocks.
Add to the fact that veterans Kim Fajardo and Mika Reyes (who, if you can remember, refused to wear her 2nd place medal last season) are back and are still as tall as ever; La Salle still looks as unbeatable.
As for Adamson, I love their lineup the way it looked against DLSU. Not being able to take a set from La Salle in the past few seasons was a huge monkey dancing on their backs, but now that monkey’s off. Look for Adamson to play looser and be as dangerous as ever. When they were on their roll, the Lady Falcons looked devastating on offense with their new look. Amanda Villanueva played her heart out in that game to the point of total exhaustion, leading the charge that gave Adamson a key 10-1 lead in the second set. Gemma Gallanza and Mylene Paat slipped in perfectly into their new roles, and if they can perform the way they did against the rest of the league this season, maybe they aren’t going to miss Bang Pineda that much after all.