De La Salle University head coach Ramil de Jesus is no doubt the most successful women’s volleyball coach in the past two decades.
On Sunday, he won his 10th University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) crown in 20 seasons with the Taft-based team.
What made it sweeter? It’s against the Lady Spikers’ arch rival Ateneo de Manila University. What made it special? De Jesus said the system just brought them back to the top again after a roller coaster ride to the finals.
“It’s really the system plus the hard work and the discipline of the players,” said de Jesus, minutes after sweeping the Lady Eagles in their best-of-three championship series with a pulsating 19-25, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10 win in Game 2 on Saturday witnessed by more than 20,000 supporters of both schools.
It’s not really a secret that de Jesus’ system that put La Salle in the third all-time list of UAAP championships behind University of Santo Tomas (14) and Far Eastern University (29). But the road to the top was a bit bumpy and full of uncertainties.
Prior the season, skipper Kim Fajardo wasn’t sure of she’s coming back as she reportedly entertaining offers to play abroad. If Fajardo won’t return, who will take the leadership role for the Lady Spikers?
Desiree Cheng just came from left knee injury she suffered from an exhibition game in Ozamiz City that made her a spectator when La Salle reclaimed the crown from Ateneo last year.
Is Kim Dy, the 2016 Finals Most Valuable Player, ready to embrace the new role as the Lady Spikers’ main weapon? Of course Dawn Macandili, the league’s top libero, will always be there on the defensive end but who will provide the attacks?
These manifested when La Salle was stunned by the hungry University of the Philippines, 25-22, 25-21, 25-19, in its third game of Season 79. And worse, the Lady Spikers were swept by the Lady Eagles in the elimination round, casting doubts if the team can defend the crown.
De Jesus did not blink and instead worked on the shortcomings in practices that sometimes ended late at night.
“We just really concentrated on our trainings and explained to the players on what to do. (The trainings) were really hard but the players had to accept it,” he said.
One of Lady Spikers who welcomed the challenge was Cheng, the surprising Finals MVP of the series.
“I’m happy for her. She started the season with a sub-par performance. She always cries during practices but I told her she needed to double her effort in Season 79,” de Jesus added.
While Cheng was groping for her form, Fajardo, Macandili, Dy and season MVP Majoy Baron carried the cudgels for La Salle to finish No. 2 after the elimination round.
The Lady Spikers beat the Tigresses in the Final Four round to set another finals date with the Lady Eagles, who beat the Lady Tamaraws in their own semifinal duel.
La Salle got another crack to avenge those two losses in the elimination phase. And Fajardo made sure the decision to return won’t be put into waste after providing stability in two games in the finals.
“It’s all worth it,” said Fajardo, the season’s Best Server, Best Digger and Best Setter. “I never feel I’m fighting alone. My teammates are always there for me.”
Dy said they just fulfilled their promise to their team captain to exit the UAAP as a winner.
“We’re all happy she got the exit she deserved,” said Dy, who will most likely take the leadership role when La Salle guns for thee-peat in Season 80.
De Jesus admitted it will be hard to replace Fajardo but what she will be leaving to the team is a winning culture that every athlete wants to have.
“The players will be inspired to play for La Salle because we have a player (Fajardo) who always wants to win. That will be remembered by people. Who will replace Kim? It will be hard because there’s only one Kim Fajardo.”
De Jesus has one year to draw the game plan as La Salle goes for title No. 11. Right now, he just wanted to savor the moment. After all, de Jesus deserved another toast after leading the Lady Spikers back to their throne.
Another top setter exits
Hours after losing to La Salle, Ateneo’s women’s volleyball program took another blow when Lady Eagles’ top setter Jia Morado decided to forego her final year with the Loyola-based squad.
In a mass on Saturday night at the Church of Gesu in Ateneo, Morado told the Blue Eagles community that’s no longer coming back for Season 80 and will pursue other plans.
“It was an honor to play for the Blue and White. But after careful thinking and I’ve been thinking about it for a long while. I’m graduating from the Ateneo, but I’ve decided to graduate from the team as well,” Morado was quoted after the mass.
“As much as it hurts to stay, I’d like to move on and I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I know it won’t be easy to understand why,” she added.
Morado’s decision will leave a big hole in the Lady Eagles’ campaign come Season 80 as the Season 77 Best Setter has been solid for Ateneo this year only to fall short to the Lady Spikers in the finals.
Even before Morado made the announcement, Michelle Morente told the media that she will convince their top setter to return for one last time. Now, Morente will need the help of the Ateneo top officials for Morado to change her mind.