15 March 2014

In Hindsight, A Title the Lady Spikers Really Could Not Win

Whether you are from La Salle or Ateneo, you are probably looking forward to having a pint of lager; albeit, for totally different reasons. Being from the Green Side myself, the one question that I cannot shake from my mind is what the cuff happened?

This was supposed to be the celebrated 4-peat; and, surely, Ateneo could not overturn a seemingly overwhelming thrice-to-beat advantage?

But they did! I am bitterly disappointed; but, as a sportsman, I cannot help but admire the journey that the Lady Eagles took to win their first-ever UAAP women’s volleyball championship.

As to the what the cuff happened, let us just say that my being disappointed does not at all mean that I am also all that surprised. In fact, having watched the entire season, I could sense that something like this could happen and wrote about it. [Read the article here.]

No, not that Ateneo would win but rather that the Lady Spikers could lose the title. This season was just an amazing parallel of the 2010 season when it was UST who spoiled the party in what was, inevitably, the Year of the Tiger.


And next season, for all their admirable run this year, the Lady Eagles will find out that getting to the top is one thing. Staying there is another thing altogether. In fact, they will have to stay there for many years to be able to call themselves the peers of the Lady Spikers.
The regular season was just way too easy for the Lady Spikers when all the other teams – Ateneo included – were just capitulating almost without putting up a fight. In fact, the Lady Spikers only dropped three sets on the way to a sweep of the eliminations.

Towards the end of the second round, the chinks in the Lady Spikers’ armour were already beginning to show. As it happened, the two teams who went on to meet in the finals were also going in opposite directions.

The Lady Spikers, to quote from that pompous Scot Ferguson, were coming down from their cuffing perch. The Lady Eagles, on the other hand, were labouring hard to get there.

One team was hitting peak form; the other was struggling to regain theirs. In other words, conditions were rife for an Ateneo victory.

I have also written that the format did not favour the Lady Spikers at all. [Read the article here.] The essence of sport is to reward the winning team; but the 18-day rest that was rewarded to the Lady Spikers for sweeping the eliminations was always something of a poisoned chalice.

When the Lady Spikers failed to consolidate their dominant first set over the Lady Eagles in that first game of the finals, what they essentially did was to throw away the psychological advantage that they enjoyed overwhelmingly over all the other teams in the UAAP.

Arguably, Game 1 was when the Lady Spikers lost the title. They allowed Ateneo to realise that they could be beaten. Those who saw the mean machine that was the DLSU Lady Spikers in the elimination rounds would agree that the same team in the finals was but a pale shadow of its true self.

We all saw the frowns on the faces of the Lady Spikers in today’s winner-takes-all championship game, in contrast to the smiles on the faces of the Lady Eagles.

Happy-happy! For all the Thai coach’s limited English, he understood the mental side not only of the game of volleyball but, more importantly, of the finals.

Ateneo already had the advantage of being the team with everything to gain and nothing to lose; but the Thai coach ensured that the positive juices of his players would be flowing by dancing his silly jigs, by making them meditate and by perpetually telling them to be happy-happy.

In sports psychology terms, he was drawing the positive energy from his players, something crucial to the attainment of mental toughness. In other words, players who are enjoying themselves insulate themselves from pressure and consequently play better.

In contrast, Ramil de Jesus of DLSU could not shake off the frown from his face and could barely contain the irritation from his voice. De Jesus is a multi-titled coach and his achievements cannot be disregarded; but on the occasion of this year’s finals, he needed to reinvent his ways but failed to.

The pressure on the shoulders of the Lady Spikers was simply immense, make no mistake about it! First there was the burden of maintaining the winning streak. Then, there was this season’s streak of winning matches all in straight sets. Finally, there was the burden of the 4-peat.

When the La Salle crowd started chanting “4-peat!” in the fifth set of Wednesday’s game with the Lady Spikers ahead going into the homestretch, I sincerely felt that that was the worst thing that the crowd could have done. It was not as though there was a 10-point lead in a set of 15.

Not for me to really question de Jesus’ player rotations today – he is the coach after all – but I did find some of the substitutions odd. For instance, I did not even know that DLSU has a player named Cerveza. When she was sent in, naturally my reaction was who-the-cuff-was that?

Watching the Lady Spikers in most of their elimination games, I did notice that de Jesus was very sparing in his use of the bench, even in the games when his team was giving dominant performances. It may just be that his frugality in reaching out to his bench might have come back to haunt him in the finals when his top guns were underperforming.

At any rate, like I said on my Facebook Timeline, the one thing good about sport is that there will always be the next season. Give it a day or two and we on the Green Side will all have forgotten that there was this bitch of a day.

And next season, for all their admirable run this year, the Lady Eagles will find out that getting to the top is one thing. Staying there is another thing altogether. In fact, they will have to stay there for many years to be able to call themselves the peers of the Lady Spikers.


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RELATED STORIES:
Somebody Please Give the DLSU Lady Spikers a Real Game!
La Salle v Ateneo in UAAP Volleyball: A Matter of Formats

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