By Neal Tieng
Going into last weekend’s game, questions swirled around the DLSU Lady Spikers. First and foremost, could last year’s third placer compete with the defending champions Ateneo Lady Eagles? And how would the rookies respond to the pressure of playing their first game in the UAAP in such a big setting?
Questions asked. And answered.
It was a masterful dissection of the favored team by a young, rookie-loaded Lady Spikers squad.
That’s the best way to describe the DLSU Lady Spikers’ 25-17, 17-25, 25-17, 25-15 demolition of the defending champions before almost 13,000 screaming fans last March 8, 2020 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
From the first serve to the final whistle, the Lady Spikers were always aggressive, eager to prove their ability to compete, or maybe more precisely, their intent to dominate. Nothing shy about this team.
Parading eight rookies and starting the game with three of them, it was apparent that La Salle had reloaded with an arsenal of attackers, and was not afraid to try them out. Mix the young blood with the skilled veterans Michelle Cobb, Tin Tiamzon, Jolina Dela Cruz and Captain Aduke Ogunsanya, and this line-up set about proving that in time, it could join the list of great Lady Spikers squads of the past.
Talk about an immediate impact. Rookie Leila Cruz smashed through the blue defense in their first offense, and Thea Gagate followed with a point of her own to put La Salle up 2-0. This was DLSU Lady Spikers firing their warning shot. It didn’t stop there.
The Lady Spikers went into attack mode and kept the upper hand 8-5 with Captain Aduke Ogunsanya and Tin Tiamzon scoring off attacks and blocks complimenting the production from the prized rookies.
And Ateneo struggled mightily, could not score on their own, as most of Ateneo’s points came off DLSU miscues with the blues finding a very hard time penetrating an air-tight La Salle floor and net defense.
Jolina Dela Cruz then took over by torching the Lady Eagles with her personal 4-0 run increasing a once 9-7 lead to a more commanding 13-7 in the first.
The green and whites were just getting started.
The frontline combination of Gagate, Tiamzon and Ogunsanya took turns in scoring off blocks and middle attacks, forcing the Lady Eagles scramble for every ball. Covering the floor with incredible anticipation, rookie libero Justin Jazareno kept Ateneo scoreless on attacks in the early part of the first set.
When it was time to finish it off, another new girl in Taft, the nifty lefty, Baby Jyne Soreno smashed home an excellent reverse set by Marionne Alba to cap off a statement first set 25-17 while the volleybelles from Katipunan shuffled off the court, bogged down by errors and miscommunication.
Although the rookies seemed come in a nice plug-and-play ready-to-go package, the team showed it is still getting to know itself, and the inexperience came out in full display in the second set. Four straight errors on serves, interspersed with miscues on attacks and net violations, the Lady Spikers coughed up a 17-13 lead and watched as the defending champions used experience as their ultimate advantage, flipped the tables behind a 12-0 set-deciding run to tie the match at one set apiece.
And while it looked like the 3rd set was about to go the same route, the legendary La Salle coach, Ramil de Jesus has seen enough. And after his timeout with the Lady Eagles up by 3 at 11-14, the Lady Spikers were given a clear mandate to protect and attack the net.
That was all the instructions the Lady Spikers needed. Cruz, Tiamzon, and Dela Cruz scored off blocks and clean swats at the frontline as part of a 9-2 bomb to seize control of the game at 20-16, sending the sea of green fans into frenzy. Michelle Cobb launched one of her unnerving serves for an ace after which Gagate blitzed the opponents’ defense with her quick smashes to eventually win the set 25-17. The momentum was on our side going into the fourth set.
Of course the game wasn’t over yet at 2-1. But while the other side was still hoping, La Salle turned the fourth set into a victory march. Skipper Ogunsanya and the veteran Tiamzon took turns razing Ateneo on the net enough to make the normally stoic Coach Ramil give a high five to Tiamzon as La Salle zoomed ahead 9-6.
Then the DLSU blue-chip rookies took over. Gagate and Soreno alternated in ravaging the befuddled Ateneo net defense, ably supported by Dela Cruz’s timely hits to increase the once small 9-6 lead to an unreachable 20-7 en route to the De La Salle Lady Spikers’ win #1 in Season 82.
Tiamzon gained Player of the Game with a team-high triple-double of 17 points, 11 excellent digs and 12 excellent receptions while Dela Cruz contributed 13. The green frontline outplayed their blue counterparts with a massive 53-33 attack points and 10-6 on block points. Half of DLSU’s kill blocks came from rookie Gagate who finished the game with 5 blocks and 10 points. Gagate looks like she will carry on the Lady Spiker tradition of dominant middle blockers.
A sterling debut for a team foreseen to contend in the long run.
The Lady Spikers will battle the UP Lady Maroons on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
ANIMO LA SALLE!