MANILA, Philippines – The defending UAAP women’s volleyball champion NU Lady Bulldogs ended the Season 85 first round in one of the worst ways imaginable: a straight-sets beatdown by Season 84 runner-up La Salle Lady Spikers sparked by a 25-10 first-set annihilation.
In front of more than 9,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena last Wednesday, March 22, La Salle’s stacked core of super rookie Angel Canino, and star blockers Thea Gagate and Fifi Sharma ran circles around NU’s hapless defense, and made even worse by uncharacteristic unforced errors from the champs’ side.
Reigning league MVP Bella Belen could only tip her hat to the Lady Spikers’ impeccable effort to turn a must-see marquee win into a miserable mauling.
“I think for us players, our hunger to play kind of disappeared,” a somber Belen said in Filipino after a long team meeting in the locker room. “Like in this game, La Salle clearly showed they really wanted this game point by point compared to us.”
After the first set, it was evident that it was La Salle’s game to lose as NU never threatened a comeback even in a relatively tighter third-set finish.
Such cracks in the Lady Bulldogs’ once-impenetrable armor – even in wins – showed early and often, which prompted head coach Karl Dimaculangan to give a fitting description to the start of their title defense.
“I guess this first round was really shaky,” he said in Filipino. “Every game, there are performances where we don’t even know if we’d have an okay game or not. We’re lucky we’re still winning.”
Following its loss to La Salle, NU slid to third place in a three-way standings tie at 5-2 with second-ranked Adamson and fourth-place UST – a far cry from even the most pessimistic preseason expectations for the mighty group.
“Our movements were really shaky,” echoed Belen, who was even benched in an eventual four-set win over UP that featured a stunning first-set loss to the underdog Maroons. “There are games where we didn’t know we could perform or not. I think that starts in our preparations in training.”
By virtue of traditional rankings-based matchmaking, NU will actually kick off its second round bounce-back effort on Saturday, March 25, 4 pm, with an immediate rematch against La Salle.
“We’ll head back to training. We’ll have a game viewing even though it’s painful to watch, but we need to do it so we can prepare against [La Salle],” Belen continued. “We have to see where we lacked in our last game.”
“We have to bounce back and prepare. We’ll see if we’re mentally prepared, first and foremost,” Dimaculangan added. “We’ll take this [tougher season] as motivation and we’ll adjust. Let’s see what happens in the second round.” – Rappler.com
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