UST loss was wake-up call for La Salle spikers
MANILA, Philippines -- Entering Season 75 of the UAAP women's volleyball tournament, the back-to-back defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers were the favorites to once again win the title. But shockingly, their three-peat campaign got off on the wrong foot.
In a rare lackluster showing, the Lady Spikers were stunned by the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Tigresses in their very first game of the season. They lost in a five-set war, 25-22, 25-13, 12-25, 21-25 and 15-9.
The December 2 loss would turn out to be the first and only time the Lady Spikers would taste defeat in the women's volleyball tournament.
Following the upset, they reeled off a stunning 16-game winning streak, including a three-set sweep of the Tigresses in the second round to avenge their loss.
"Our first loss was a lesson na never kami ulit matatalo. Sa inabo't namin after ng game na yun, tinatak namin sa isa't isa na hindi na talaga kami matatalo after ng game na 'yun," said Finals Most Valuable Player Michele Gumabao.
Throughout their 16-game winning streak, the Lady Spikers were still tested, most notably by rivals Ateneo Lady Eagles, who twice forced them to five sets before eventually losing.
In Game 1 of the UAAP Season 75 Finals, Ateneo even took a two-set lead though La Salle showed championship poise and rallied for the victory. In Game 2, they made sure that there was no need for drama as they won in three sets to clinch their third straight women's volleyball crown.
La Salle coach Ramil de Jesus explained that his players were lethargic from the off-season during their first game, which contributed to the defeat.
"Nung opening game namin, katatapos lang ng game sa Unigames," he said. "Siguro, nasa bakasyon mode pa ang isip ng mga bata."
"Nung natalo sila, 'yun 'yung wake-up call sa kanila. Uy, UAAP na pala."
For two-time Most Valuable Player Abigail Marano, the loss served not just a wake-up call but as motivation for the defending champions.
"After that, we trained until midnight para maipamukha sa amin na hindi ito 'yung Team La Salle," Marano said.
"We need to set the Team La Salle, na ito 'yung way natin, ito 'yung kung paano maglaro ang La Salle," she added. "On that day, hindi namin nakita 'yung sarili namin."
"'Yung mga pinaghirapan namin, 'yung mga parusa na pinagdaanan namin, tinurn namin into motivation and challenge para mas lalo kaming tumibay."
The loss to UST was the lone blip in what was another successful season for De La Salle.
"This whole season was very successful for all of us," said Gumabao. "Super thankful kami na walang na-injure."
"Sobra ang blessings namin this season, wala masyadong problema na dumating sa team," she added.
De Jesus, who has led La Salle to all eight of its women's volleyball championships, said his players' hard work paid off.
"Ito ang fruit of labor ng mga bata, sobrang pinag-hirapan nila ito," he said. "Magandang exit din ito para sa senior players ko na si Melissa Gohing at Wensch Tiu. Masaya ako para sa kanila."