Head coach Ramil De Jesus has had his share of formidable foes over his nearly two decades of coaching the De La Salle Univeristy Lady Spikers.
There were the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraw teams from the early part of the new millennium. Then there were the Aiza Maizo-powered University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses.
However, arguably, no other player gave De Jesus as much headaches as the Phenom herself, Alyssa Valdez.
Since Valdez entered the UAAP, De Jesus faced off against her and the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles in the UAAP Finals for five straight years.
During Season 74 and 75, the Lady Spikers posted overwhelming triumphs against a young Valdez and the Fab Five. Retooled and with Thai coach Tai Bundit at the helm, the Lady Eagles defeated La Salle in heartbreaking fashion in Season 76 and was followed with a dominant sweep in Season 77.
Hungry and tired of losing, the 78th Season of the UAAP saw a determined La Salle side that treated every loss and bad game with dread. Their perfectionist approach paid off in the end as the Lady Spikers quelled the Lady Eagles in three classic matches to bag the school’s ninth UAAP Women’s Volleyball crown.
Against the Valdez-led Lady Eagles, Coach Ramil and the Lady Spikers have an 14 wins, 10 loss slate against them but finished with a three to two advantage in championship banners. Finally breaking the deadlock against the three-time Most Valuable Player, De Jesus openly gushed about the unparalleled skills of Valdez.
“Nakapag-produce ng ganitong player ang Pilipinas. At the same time, papunta na siya sa mas mataas na level. Malayo ang mararating ng bata,” De Jesus said about Valdez. “Kahit sinong coach gusto yan si Alyssa – napakagaling at napaka-humble na bata.”
De Jesus had the opportunity to coach Alyssa Valdez very shortly when the defunct-Philippine Volleyball Federation formed a national team, “Amihan”, late in 2014.
“Na-coach ko yan ng sandali doon (Amihan). Laging nakikinig sa coach, walang ego yung bata. Makikita mo rin yung work ethic, ibang klase talaga,” the nine-time UAAP champion head coach reflected. “Hindi ka na rin magtataka kung bakit siya ganyang kagaling. Deserve niya lahat ng napanalunan niya.”
“Masaya lang ako na nanalo kami sa kanila ngayon,” he added.
Out of his nine crowns, De Jesus disclosed that this was one of the most memorable championships he has won.
“Iba kasi yung paghihirap ng team ngayon,” he shred. “Naramdaman ng team yung sakit ng pagkatalo nitong huling dalawang taon. Proud ako na nakabalik kami sa championship.”
“Parang mas napatamis yung pagkapanalo namin dahil sa mga talo.”
Undoubtedly, more players will come and go to give De Jesus and his Lady Spikers a run for their money. But nothing will ever match the passion and tension in the La Salle-Ateneo matches in which De Jesus feverishly prepared for the impending Alyssa Valdez storm.