They had all the reasons to give up this season. Jaja Santiago and Aiko Urdas have exhausted their eligibility. Jasmine Nabor and Jorelle Singh did not return to the squad after a conflict with then-head coach Babes Castillo. Academic concerns also prevented Risa Sato from playing.
Joyme Cagande, the team’s lone setter, went down to injury during their opener against the FEU Lady Tamaraws. That setback reduced NU’s roster to ten players.
But the eagerness to prove that they belong inspired those who were left to represent the team. Roselyn Doria and Audrey Paran will not put their opportunity to waste. Joni Chavez will learn the plays and the sets even though she was the original starting libero. Let’s not forget their rookie core that has dominated UAAP girls volleyball for years.
Princess Robles and Jennifer Nierva were the biggest reasons why the Lady Bulldogs are the second best team in service receptions after the eliminations. Gelina Luceno is shaping up to be a nifty middle blocker that can dominate the league. Ivy Lacsina takes over from Santiago as the team’s ace scorer.
They gave other teams a run for their money even though the odds were stacked against them. They took the first set against FEU in their first round match and won against the UE Lady Warriors in the succeeding game. Coach Norman Miguel’s unit also owned two sets against the Ateneo Lady Eagles and one from the De La Salle Lady Spikers.
Slaying the Lady Maroons
But getting the best of the UP Lady Maroons in a pair of five-set contests is NU’s defining moment of Season 81. UP was at match point in their first clash when Bingle Landicho’s steady serving allowed the Lady Bulldogs to pull off the upset. Lacsina’s attack sealed NU’s second victory of the tournament at 17-15.
Their round two triumph against the Godfrey Okumu-coached unit entailed bigger odds. The Lady Bulldogs won the first two sets but the Lady Maroons edged them in chapters three and four. The fifth set was a slug fest with no team giving an inch. In the end, NU ended UP’s Final Four hopes with the same score as their first match.
While their talent is undeniable, UAAP women’s volleyball features strong teams and better players. They have to solidify that killer instinct to win more games against opponents that can overwhelm them with experience. Addressing their woes in floor defense is a step towards that goal. The Lady Bulldogs were dead last in digging with an average of only 17.44 per set.
They have also committed a league-worst 537 faults which translates to giving around 34 points for their opponents per game. Nierva laid her body on the line to save as much balls as she can but it would take more than her to prevent their opponents from having their way. NU was also eighth in setting but Joni Chavez did the best she could after becoming an emergency playmaker.
Lady Bulldogs on the rise
Four wins is tremendous accomplishment for this young but talented squad. But they won’t be down for long especially with a year of senior’s volleyball experience under their belt. Their roster could be fortified by the return of Sato, Singh, and Nabor. Likewise, Miguel and his troops were fortified by the handicaps and setbacks they endured all season.
Expect the NU Lady Bulldogs to make the jump next year. It might not translate into a Final Four berth but they will fight tooth and nail for their spot. It’s not enough to just shock opponents again come Season 82. Instead, they must crash the party and show that the best is yet to come. Their young nucleus still has four years together at most. It won’t take that long before they become legitimate contenders for the crown.