Sunday, March 9, 2014

UAAP Women's Volleyball - Notes on a defending champ, a relentless challenger and a dancing coach. By Yoyo Sarmenta

Game 1 - What It Feels Like Facing The DLSU Lady Spikers

I gotta admit. the De La Salle Lady Spikers have that championship aura. From the team, crowd, the drums. They’re very intimidating.

In the introductions, the PA announcer could have gone all UFC with a Bruce Buffer signature “The reigning… defending… undisputed UAAP champions of the woooorld!”

As soon as they took the floor in Game 1 of the Finals I felt it. The DLSU Pep Squad started the “D-L-S-UUUU” cheer but it could have might as well sounded like the Imperial Death March from Star Wars. 

They knew they were good. Their crowd knew it. Their Pep Squad knew it. Hurts to write this but even Ateneo knew it.

In the first set, the Lady Spikers played like the champions of the Philippine volleyball world. Methodically, they scored in succession against the Lady Eagles. First it was 8-1. Boom. Then 13-3. Ouch. And ending with a 25-17 massacre. Stop it please. 

However, what happened in the next three sets was something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. La Salle's last defeat was December 2012. They have only dropped a total of two sets the entire season. Two! 

And what did I witness in Game 1? I watched La Salle lose three sets in a row. 

That’s why the win by the Lady Eagles was so improbable. It was like getting a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks or beating Rafa Nadal in the French Open. You just don’t see those things very often. Ateneo looked like they walked on troubled water at first but swam with grace and fluidity to win.

Still...facing the DLSU volleyball team is like going up against The Undertaker in Wrestlemania. You know you’re up against a badass. You know the badass has an unblemished record. You’re not just playing to win. You’re out there battling history. You're out there against mystique. 

Ateneo now knows La Salle can be beaten, at least for one game.

Game 2 - The defending champs, the relentless challengers and the dancing coach

1) Everybody can talk about past MVPs Abigail Mariano and Ara Galang but has anyone noticed just how good a setter Kim Fajardo is? There was this Cirque du Soleil  moment in Game 2. Ateneo lobbed a return to La Salle. Fajardo ran to the left side.  One expected her to flip the ball and set a teammate on the left. Only she didn’t. She pushed the ball up, towards the right like she was about to do a back flip while still moving left. It was beautiful. It was magical. 

2)  The Ateneo Lady Eagles have a lot of “heart strong” moments throughout the year but Denden Lazaro’s play despite spraining her ankle is probably the best yet. If you’re an Ateneo fan, chances are you were also grimacing in pain watching Lazaro on the bench with a towel on her face as a trainer was stretching her ankle during the second set. 

Then you might have even shed a tear while she slowly went back in the game visibly limping in every step. We felt like we were all doctors monitoring her every move. But, inexplicably, she suddenly she goes for a suicide dive to save the ball that was about just an inch away from the ground. If you didn’t react at all, then you probably don’t have a heart.

3)   Watching ADMU Coach Anusorn Bundit, better known as “Coach Tai”, has been just as fun to watch as the game itself. How in the world do the Lady Eagles and their coach communicate? In every timeout you see the coach demonstrating an imaginary stance or a block. It's like sideline theatre.

His constant reminder to the girls: “Happy! Happy! Happy!” 

In the heat of the game, you can see the coach doing a mini moonwalk or a reverse running man and pumping his fists like he’s on Eat Bulaga. You have to ask yourself have you ever seen a coach in any sport do that? YS

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