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Upcoming marquee matches to test Lady Blazers’ mettle

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In a short, highly-competitive season such as the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, teams aren’t just concerned with how many wins they earn, but also with their quality of play. With just nine games in the regular season, contenders are most often concerned with peaking at the right time and with Final Four matchups. One bad game has too often sent teams into unshakable funks.

The College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers, by circumstance and their own doing, have positioned themselves in perhaps the most intriguing spot among all other contenders heading into the final stretch of the elimination round. Their 5-1 record suggests that they’re dominating the league but a closer look at their most recent matches suggests otherwise.

After taking out their first three opponents handily, Benilde played sluggishly and lost a tight five-setter against a rebuilding Perpetual Help Lady Altas. They then nearly lost again to the slumping San Beda Lady Red Lions, needing five sets to take out one of the league’s cellar-dwellers.

With morale incredibly low for the ladies from Taft, a matchup against one of last season’s finalists, the blistering San Sebastian College Lady Stags could have dragged them deeper into their slump. Typhoon Nona’s unrelenting winds and rains, however, caused the match to be rescheduled.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Upcoming marquee matches to test Lady Blazers’ mettle

Having ended 2015 with a quick victory over the winless Mapua Lady Cardinals, Benilde seemed to have regained their mojo.

“After our loss to Perpetual, nag-shut down ‘yung team ko, as in back to zero. Ang kinaganda, hindi pa naman tapos ‘yung league, may mga matches pa kami so may chance pa kami makabawi. Kaya sa mga training, pinag-usapan naming ‘yung intention ng team. Nagkaroon na rin kasi ng kaunting pagkakampante kasi nga maganda ‘yung nilalaro nila noong mga unang laro kaya in-expect nila na pagdating sa mga susunod na kalaban, ganoon pa din. Hindi ganoon ‘yung nangyari kaya nagkaroon ng panic on our part kasi unfamiliar sa amin ‘yung situation,” said Benilde Head Coach Michael Cariño.

Benilde’s brilliance shows across all skills. They’re first in attacking and serving, second in blocking, and are the best passing team in the league. Their trio of veterans spearhead their attack-oriented approach. Middle blocker Jeanette Panaga and open hitter Jannine Navarro are the sixth and seventh best scorers in the league respectively, while their team captain, setter Djanel Cheng, is one the best decision-makers in local volleyball.

“The difference from this year’s team compared to last year is mas nag-uusap na kami as a team, mas maganda ‘yung communication namin. Kahit kami ‘yung veterans, lahat ng nasa team involved sa usapan, walang exempt sa pag-uusap,” expressed the graduating playmaker, Cheng.

Currently, the Lady Blazers sit in third place behind the undefeated Lady Stags and the defending champions Arellano University Lady Chiefs, both of whom Benilde have yet to face. With the league recently changing their format to a Final Four with the top two seeds holding a twice-to-beat advantage, Benilde have realized the importance of improving their record to nail an elusive Finals appearance.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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