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Unlike most of the nation whose attention was fixated in a boxing event held in Macau, the highlight of my Sunday was actually the first game of the DLSU Lady Spikers in Season 77. So forgive me for initially feeling a little bit disappointed by the lackluster and error-prone play of La Salle in the first two sets against the Adamson Lady Falcons.

If it weren’t for the inspired play of Season 76 Best Setter Kim Fajardo, the Lady Spikers would not have rallied from a 16-21 deficit to take the first set 25-23.

Despite giving up a 1-0 set lead, the Lady Falcons were still brimming with confidence as the La Salle defence could not stop the attacks of senior Amanda Villanueva and Jessica Galanza. Despite having the smaller line-up, Adamson doubled the attacking output of the Lady Spikers, 16-8, take the second set, 26-24 and tie the game at one set a piece.

Each Cruz twin seemed to channel the scoring (Camille) and the receiving (Cienne) abilities that made their big sister a La Salle volleyball legend.

The Taft-based squad actually trailed during all four technical timeouts of the first two frames by committing 16 of their total 23 errors.

Add the next two sets to coach Ramil de Jesus’ manual of mid-game adjustments. Focusing the defence on Villanueva and Galarza, receiving the ball batter and limiting their errors, the eight-time UAAP volleyball champions showed what they are capable of doing when all cylinders are clicking.

Imposing their will and playing on a higher level that is expected of them, the Lady Spikers recovered from a measly eight-point, nine-error second set to score 14 and 20 attack points in the third and fourth frames while limiting their errors to a combined seven.

The evolution of Ara Galang
27 points, 5 blocks and 8 excellent digs, what else could you ask for from Ara Galang? As if to answer the question on people’s minds on who should fill the shoes of Aby Maraño, the current Lady Spikers team captain quietly made her presence felt on both ends of the game.

Known for her down-the-line and cross-court hits, the Season 75 MVP even displayed a new weapon on her arsenal, a back row attack that the Lady Falcons had no answer to. While not as loud and possessing none of the “Beast Mode” that Maraño was known for, it will be a challenge for 4th year outside hitter both carry and provide leadership to this year’s version of the Lady Spikers.

Coach Ramil’s shock troopers
I could still recall the moment three years ago when then-promising rookie Camille Cruz landed awkwardly and tore her ACL; forcing her to miss the rest of the season and ending a chance to play a whole season with her graduating big sister, Charleen Cruz.

Making up for missing Season 75 and getting limited playing time during last season, the younger Cruz came off the bench to score 10 points from nine spikes. The third-year outside hitter’s quiet demeanor was a complete contrast to her loud attacks. With all eyes on Galang, Mika Reyes and Fajardo, Cruz’s high kill rate (9/20, 45%) was surprise package that the Lady Falcons and their head coach Sherwin Meneses never expected.

Equally effective was the libero play of twin sister Cienne Cruz, who took over the defensive specialist duties from starter Dawn Macandili in the middle of the second set. For the last two sets, each Cruz twin seemed to channel the scoring (Camille) and the receiving (Cienne) abilities that made their big sister a La Salle volleyball legend.

The volleyball season is still in its early stages. While there are still areas on offense and defence to improve on, one thing the team can learn from last year’s epic finals collapse is that there is such a thing as peaking at the right time. Another lesson is to develop the younger players so that the trio of Galang, Reyes and Fajardo do not get overused and over-fatigued by the time the playoffs start.

Animo La Salle!

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    (From DLSUSports.com by Camilla Saguin) The DLSU Lady Spikers uncorked their UAAP Season 77 campaign with a victory after beating the Adamson Lady Falcons in four sets, 25-23, 24-26, 25-14, 25-17 at the San Juan Arena earlier tonight.

    The Lady Spikers had a very rusty start in the first set but were able to climb back with the help of Kim Fajardo’s steady serves for her team to eventually win the set.

    The second set was pretty much like the first, with DLSU having a shaky start, but this time a late rally was insufficient as they dropped the second set to Adamson despite taking a set point.

    In the third and fourth sets, the Lady Spikers were finally able to get their blocking and reception going to build unassailable advantages to dispatch Adamson easily.

    Captain Ara Galang led the DLSU Lady Spikers in scoring with 27 points coming from 22 attacks and 5 blocks. Camille Cruz was a spark off the bench while Kim Fajardo displayed game-long brilliance in setting for the taft-based squad

    The DLSU Lady Spikers will be facing the NU Lady Bulldogs on their next game which will be on Wednesday, November 26, 4pm at the San Juan Arena.

    In men’s play earlier in the day, the Green Spikers drop their season opener to UP  25-22, 21-25, 14-25, 25-23, 12-15.

    For more news visit, DLSUSports.com

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    Three images encapsulated the UAAP Season 76 Women’s Volleyball Finals.

    One was a picture of Aby Maraño and Ateneo libero Denden Lazaro locked in an embrace, both of them in tears, surrounded by thousands of people, with cameras pointed and clicking all around them. A gesture of sportsmanship and respect between the two rivals.

    Another was an image of the Lady Eagles celebrating their first women’s volleyball title. The thrill of victory.

    The third image stood out more than the others. It was a picture of the DLSU Lady Spikers, all standing in a semi-circle, their uniforms resembling army fatigues. They all had their arms up in a salute, and their eyes welled with tears. They are saluting someone in front of them, that someone being Maraño, who had played her final UAAP game.

    She was the last to receive her silver medal later on, and as she got to the podium, she was handed a bouquet of flowers together with the medal. She tried to fight back the tears, and managed a smile and a wave to the mammoth crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena, ending the career of one of the most decorated volleyball players for La Salle.

    Gone are Maraño’s words of encouragement during team huddles, numbing spikes, and patented celebrations after she scores points. This is a team that had won titles even after the loss of players like Jacq Alarca, Steph Mercado, and Cha Cruz. But the question still has to be asked: How do you replace someone who did a little bit of everything and more for the team?

    Last Year’s Record: 14-0 in the elimination round; secured thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals, forcing a step-ladder in the semifinals; lost to the Ateneo Lady Eagles in the Finals in four games (won one game, lost three games);

    Team Additions: Two rookies: Christine Joy Soyud and Aduke Christine Ogunsanya. Both Soyud and Ogunsaya were already included in the team’s line-up for the Philippine National Games. Returnee: Justine Tiu.

    Team Losses: Two-Time Most Valuable Player and Season 75 Best Server Aby Maraño, Mika Esperanza (ACL injury), Denise Tan.

    Holdovers: Season 74 Rookie of the Year and Season 75 MVP Ara Galang, Season 76 Best Setter Kim Fajardo, Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo, Desiree Cheng, Cienne Cruz, Camille Cruz, Joy Baron, Kim Dy, Dawn Macandili, Carol Cerveza.

    The Off-Season: After being denied in the UniGames last year by a resurgent FEU side, the Lady Spikers, led by Galang, toppled the NU Lady Bulldogs in four sets to win the tournament. The Philippine National Games was another tournament joined by Lady Spikers last May, where they swept the eliminations but lost to the Philippine Air Force in the Finals after five thrilling sets.

    The Competition: The biggest challenge the Lady Spikers face is, of course, the team that pulled the rug from under them in the Finals, the Lady Eagles. The team’s core of players, which survived five elimination games in the stepladder semis and finals to win the title last year, will all be back for Season 77. Leading the charge is Season 76 Finals MVP Alyssa Valdez, as well as libero Denden Lazaro, Amy Ahomiro, Ella De Jesus, and sophomores Michelle Morente and Jia Morado. Further bolstering their line-up are rookies such as Bea de Leon, Therese Gaston, and Maddie Madayag, making their strong line-up even more formidable.

    The NU Lady Bulldogs, who finished second in the eliminations last year and initially loomed as a finals opponent for the Lady Spikers before coughing up a twice-to-beat advantage to the Lady Eagles, are another contender. They lost Dindin Santiago and Mina Aganon, with both players having exhausted their playing years. Season 75 Rookie of the Year will likely not suit up for the Lady Bulldogs as well, having suffered an injury during the off-season. The team, however, still has the 6’’5’ Jaja Santiago, as well as Season 75 Best Attacker Myla Pablo and setter Ivy Perez, and with the younger Santiago gaining a year of experience, this is a team that is still stronger than others and can still contend for the crown.

    The Adamson Lady Falcons, hitherto known for their defense, will need their holdovers and newcomers to fill the void left by several of the team’s graduating players, including Season 75 Best Server and last year’s team captain Sheila Pineda, Mayette Zapanta, and May Macatuno. Bannering the Adamson cause is team captain Faye Guevarra, as well as holdovers like Amanda Villanueva and Mylene Paat.

    The FEU Lady Tamaraws are one of the younger squads in the UAAP, but after winning the first conference of the Shakey’s V-League, the team believes that it is ready to take the next step and figure in the mix for the Final Four. They will be led by Bernadette Pons, one of the deadliest scorers in the league last season, as well as Gyzelle Sy, Remrem Palma, and libero Tin Agno.

    Several blue-chip rookies will be making their debuts in the UAAP, but none has received more attention that EJ Laure, daughter of PBA player Eddie Laure, who will be playing for the UST Tigresses this year. The Tigresses, who were crowned as the UniGames champion last year, will be led by veterans Carmela Tunay, Pam Lastimosa, and Jessey De Leon, while Laure, who already made an impact with her stint with the team during the Shakey’s V-League, is also expected to immediately contribute to her squad.

    Outlook: For the first time in a while, the Lady Spikers are in unfamiliar territory, sailing on uncharted waters: they are entering Season 77 as one of the contenders, but not the clear favorite to win the title.

    But after auspicious stints in the PNG (where they narrowly lost to a team composed of former UAAP players from different teams) and the UniGames (when they handily defeated an NU side that is considered as another contender), the Lady Spikers have proven that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

    Despite the loss of Maraño, the team will still parade the core of a line-up that made the finals last season, led by Galang, Reyes, and Fajardo, who are all part of the Philippine National team, which is being coached by De Jesus. Players like libero Cienne Cruz, Cyd Demecillo, and Camille Cruz will be back for the Lady Spikers, both of them integral parts in their run to a sweep of the elimination round and finals stint. Rookies Desiree Cheng, libero Dawn Macandili, Kim Dy, and Mary Joy Baron will all have a year of experience under their belts, which bodes well for their confidence as well as the team’s overall chemistry.

    But with almost every team retooling during the off-season, games will not be easily won and opponents cannot be overlooked. The possible loss of Mika Esperanza due to an injury leaves Fajardo as the only setter of the team. Reyes, Demecillo, Cheng, and the rookies will all have to increase their scoring output to blunt the impact of Maraño’s absence. Galang has already been named team captain by De Jesus, and while she may not be as fiery as her predecessor, it will be up to her to rally her teammates when they experience a dearth in scoring or a deficit they need to overcome.

    Whether or not the Lady Spikers can topple the Lady Eagles remains to be seen, but the immediate goal would be to pile up as many wins to secure one of the top two seeds in the standings and nab a twice-to-beat advantage. If last season proved anything, it’s that nothing is set in stone.

    The First Game: The Lady Spikers will begin their quest to reclaim the UAAP volleyball crown this Sunday, November 23, 4pm at the San Juan Arena.

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    (From DLSUSports.com by Brian Lance Tamayao) – In a battle of undefeated teams in the 2014 Philippine Collegiate Champions League Elite 8, the reigning PCCL champions DLSU Green Archers emerged as winners against the San Beda Red Lions, 61-56 after withstanding a late comeback by the NCAA kings.

    Jeron Teng produced a healthy stat line with 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks to keep his team invincible in the eight-team tournament that pits the best college basketball teams against each other. Ben Mbala also racked up nine points alongside 14 rebounds and Thomas Torres also had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.

    The Bedans started the game ahead by five after an 8-0 run that allowed them to take a lead as big as seven. The Red Lions banked on trips to the freethrow line to create a noticeable gap between them and the Lasallians.

    La Salle pounced back in the second quarter with the starters teaming up well with the spark plugs from the bench to erase San Beda’s lead by halftime. Jeron scored three game-tying baskets in the dying minutes of the first half to make it a virtual back-to-zero affair in the second half.

    The Lasallians flaunted their muscles on defense by allowing the Red Lions to score just one field goal and five points in total. Offensively, the Green Archers displayed fine shooting to erect a 14-point advantage heading into the last 10 minutes of the game.

    The Red Lions fought back right away in the fourth to trim the deficit to eight via a quick 6-0 run off La Salle’s miscues. The boys in red came as close as five points behind the Green Archers who held their ground despite struggling to make their shots by forcing turnovers and ill-taken attempts by San Beda.

    The return of Teng and Mbala from a short rest on the bench paid dividends with the duo scoring a couple of shots to neutralize San Beda’s offensive spurt. The game’s turning point came when Mbala located an unchallenged Rivero who scooped an easy layup that expanded the Green Archers’ lead to eight at 60-52. Despite the Red Lions’ determination to wipe out the gap, La Salle held on to a five-point victory.

    The win fortified La Salle’s chances of retaining the PCCL crown with a 3-0 record to stay as the tournament’s only unbeaten team. They will be gunning for a whitewash on Monday, 4PM, at the New Ynares Arena in Pasig City when they square off against the FEU Tamaraws.

    For more news visit, DLSUSports.com

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      The Green Archers thrashed the CEU Pink Scorpions 79-56 to advance to the Elite 8 phase of the 2014 Philippine Collegiate Champions League in Tanauan, Batangas.

      Jeron Teng scored 14 points while Thomas Torres added 13 for the defending champions, who will head off to Cebu to start the next stage of the tournament.

      The Green Archers will be bracketed in Group A along with UAAP Season 77 champion NU, NCAA Season 90 runner-up Arellano and CESAFI runner-up University of San Carlos.

      La Salle will face the teams in the other bracket once (Group B) composed NCAA champion San Beda, CESAFI champion Southwestern University, UAAP Season 77 runner-up FEU and the University of Visayas.

      The top two teams will qualify for best-of-three championship series starting on November 27.

      Upcoming games for DLSU:

      November 13
      5:15pm vs. SWU (Cebu City Coliseum)

      November 14
      5:15pm vs. UV (Cebu City Coliseum)

      November 21
      2:00pm vs. SBC (Ynares Gym Shaw Boulevard, Pasig City)

      November 24
      2:00pm vs. FEU (Ynares Gym Shaw Boulevard, Pasig City)

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      Before the year ends, the Green Archers will be giving us glimpse of the future.

      A month after their failed title defense in the UAAP, the Green Archers start their bid for a back-to-back in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League with a 97-92 win over Jose Rizal University in Tanauan, Batangas.

      Beefed up by several players groomed to join the team in next year’s UAAP wars, La Salle weathered a late run by the Heavy Bombers to advance to the next stage of the tournament.

      The game saw the highly-anticipated La Salle debut of Cameroonian Ben Mbala, who had to do residency for two years after transferring from Southwestern University in Cebu.

      And right on the get-go, Mbala immediately gave everyone a preview of things to come as he scored 5 quick points including a two-handed follow-up dunk. He finished with 9 points and 14 boards.

      Other newcomers that were included in the tournament roster were Joshua Torralba, Daryl Pascual and Larry Muyang.

      Torralba, a Fil-Am guard who played one season of local college ball with EAC back in 2011 also top scored for the team with 9 points.

      Jeron Teng and Robert Bolick each scored 8 points for La Salle, who will be missing several key players in the tournament.

      Not included in the line-up for personal reasons are Julian Sargent, Jason Perkins and Arnold Van Opstal. Though they are listed, seniors Almond Vosotros and Norbert Torres did not play due to commitments with their PBA D-League teams.

      The Green Archers will be facing CEU tomorrow in another KO match with the winner advancing to the Elite 8 phase.