March 5 concluded the first round of the UAAP Season 79 Women’s Volleyball. I mentioned in my first article that this season would be different as most of the teams are stepping up and that it’s anyone’s ball game. And just to prove that point, we see how four out of eight teams are vying for the number three spot— UP, FEU, UST, and NU.
Looking closely to their performance, it is surprising that the NU Lady Bulldogs and the UP Lady Maroons fell from the shared No.1 seed halfway through the first round. They both had a convincing 3-0 win-loss record after beating the more favored finalists—NU beat Ateneo in four sets, while UP won over La Salle in three straight sets. But the top two squads of last year’s season did not passively take these losses as they bounced back in a dominating fashion in the their next assignments. La Salle handed NU their first loss and Ateneo emerged victorious in the much-anticipated “Battle of Katipunan.” The aftermath of these games left both NU and UP stunned and in a low morale. Both teams entered into a losing streak and then faced each other to see who can break the spell. UP stretched the game into five sets but eventually fell prey to the Lady Bulldogs.
These two teams have shown that with little adjustments, better attitude and composure, they can waltz back up to the top spot. For the Lady Maroons, well for most of the teams we have now, one skill that they can work on is their reception (passes from the opponent’s serves). In their game against NU, it proved to be the crucial problem as Risa Sato ran away with service aces that sealed their win in the 5th set. The Lady Maroons was not able to convert a point since they couldn’t bring the first ball to their setter. For new volleyball enthusiasts, one might applaud the spikers as they’re the ones who would rack up the points. No question, the Lady Maroons possess a roster of good attackers, some of them comfortable playing the offense in several positions. But we shouldn’t forget to give credit and respect those passing the perfect balls to the setter. Without them, the spikers would have a tough time to get kills. The Lady Maroons has yet to recover from a three-game losing streak and regain their confidence in the second round.
For the Lady Bulldogs, what’s noticeable is that their setter, Jas Nabor might be losing in touch with her spikers. One would say that having a 6-foot-4 Jaja Santiago would easily make their team win, but we have to take into consideration that if she can’t connect with the setter in the first place, then she might not prove to be as effective. In the latter half of the first round we saw Jaja Santiago struggle in her offense. One reason is that she couldn’t get the right sets that would work well with her height. She should get higher sets so she can easily go around her blockers. Santiago may be the superstar in this team but she can’t win games alone. Teamwork is just as important as having the finest skills in volleyball. Singh has previously shown us that she is one of the most powerful attackers but so far, she lacks consistency. Urdas on the other hand, seems to lack confidence thus failing to utilize her height to her advantage. This second round, we should see these girls make contributions alongside Santiago.
Sharing the third spot in the rankings after the first round, are the UST Growling Tigresses and the FEU Lady Tamaraws. Both teams also have the same potential to secure a spot in the top four at the end of the elimination round. Looking at the team’s roster, the FEU squad seems to have all the talented athletes for a winning team. They have Pons, Basas and Malabanan, outside hitters who are capable of leading the scoring sheets. They also have Gel Cayuna, a newly converted setter who proves to be one of the smartest and skilful in the league. We saw how the Lady Tamaraw’s recovered after losing in a close match against Ateneo in five sets. They went into a three-game winning spree beating UE, NU and UP. It only seems that these ladies lack the killer instinct — the attitude that they’re not stopping for anything or any team for that matter. This became evident when they went up against the UST Tigresses.
For the España-based squad, it wasn’t easy entering this UAAP season. They started with a 0-2 tally, facing last year’s finalists. Looking closely at the team, it seems that the players aren’t in sync with each other. Their body language seemed down and heavy, nothing close to what this team is known for. They lacked leadership inside the court. One of the fan favorites, Sisi Ronda was now named team captain and it seems that she was having a tough time transitioning into becoming the leader of their pack. In time, they made a switch after losing to the Lady Maroons. We saw them working more effectively, their movements were more fluid thus propelled them into winning three games consecutively. Communication is one of the key factors to victory; especially that volleyball is a team sport. It’s a form of trust that you impart to yourself and to your teammates.
Reception, teamwork, killer instinct and communication are just some of the factors that a team might need to snatch a spot in the final four.
It still is anybody’s game. Bilog ang bola.