Luck and fortitude. That summarizes the journey of the UST Golden Tigresses to the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball Finals.
There’s nothing they can do during the second round match between the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the De La Salle Lady Spikers. Lady Luck was on their side as their neighbors forced a playoff between them and the Lady Spikers.
Fast forward to today and they have defeated Coach Ramil de Jesus’ crew to enter the championship series. Yet it was anything but easy as they faced adversity from the battle-hardened unit from Taft.
Total team effort for UST
It was a nice gesture from Coach Kung Fu Reyes to bring her starters to the post-game interview with the press. They deserved that because everyone did their part in this win. Ysa Jimenez’ serves put pressure on the De La Salle receivers while Caitlyn Viray and Kecelyn Galdones injected variety to UST’s offense.
Rica Rivera poured her heart out to save as many balls as she can. Of course, Eya Laure and Cherry Anne Rondina brought the hurt on offense. But none of those would be possible if not for Alina Bicar’s commendable distribution of the ball. From not starting a bulk of elimination games, she is now undeniably the primary playmaker for the Golden Tigresses.
Bicar was very active in checking her options for every set. Her reads of the De La Salle defense enabled her to deliver the attempt to the player with the highest chance of scoring. That’s a huge reason why UST dominated the Lady Spikers in attack points, 53-36. Aside from scoring five points herself, the setter from Samar allowed Viray and Galdones to outscore La Salle middle blockers Des Clemente and Aduke Ogunsanya, 21-17.
Ateneo or FEU will have their hands full in the Finals if the UST quickers can keep this level of production up.
Immediate impact from Ipac
Norielle Ipac was inserted into the rotation when the Lady Spikers were locked in a tight battle with UST in the third set. She immediately made two kill blocks that sparked De La Salle’s 11-2 run which ultimately gave them the set. She is a spring well of energy that changed the complexion of the game for the 11-time champions and her impact rolled into set four.
As the Lady Spikers regained the momentum, the Golden Tigresses looked lost during those two sets. Their errors highlighted the fact that they are not used to a game of this magnitude. UST committed 26 unforced mistakes in sets three and four which is more than a set of free points.
Limiting errors is the major concern that Coach Reyes and the Golden Tigresses must address coming into the championship round. Their dominance in attacks might mean nothing if they keep their opponents within striking distance.
No La Salle in the Finals
This might be tough to swallow for Lady Spikers fans. Their team will not play for the championship for the first time since Season 70. Celine Hernandez was named Best Blocker while Mary Jean Balse was the Best Attacker during that year. Even current UE Lady Warriors head coach Ray Karl Dimaculangan was adjuged Best Setter of the men’s competition. Reyes was still playing for UST at that time too.
That’s a reign of dominance worthy of admiration. It’s challenging to field a highly competitive college team if you miss on recruitment, much more losing players to graduation. De Jesus is a teacher of the game who still willed this squad into the Final Four.
What’s scary for the other UAAP schools is that a talented crop of recruits will start their journey in Taft next year. Add to that a practically intact roster and you’ll see why they will have another realistic crack at the title. This absence might be short-lived. They might start another run of consecutive Finals appearances in Season 82 with all the talent under their wing.
Long time coming for the Golden Tigresses
Let’s not take the glory from the Golden Tigresses. Their fan base have waited so long and they are ready to roar for their team. It’s also an impressive turnaround from a 4-10 record last season considering that they did not have EJ Laure, Tin Francisco, and Milena Alessandrini for various reasons.
The volleyball legends from Espana will come out in full support of their squad that has embodied determination and pride. More importantly, what a way for Rondina to cap her collegiate volleyball career. She is not just the queen of the sand anymore. Rather, her dominance translates to the indoor game as well.
The Golden Tigresses are just two wins away from the crown. Expect a frenzy atmosphere in Espana once this squad that has clawed their way through adversity gets that title-clinching triumph.