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UAAP 79 volleyball Final 4: Can the Tigresses shock the Lady Spikers?

PhilStar Global logo PhilStar Global 4/20/2017 Leif Sykioco

MANILA, Philippines — And then there were four.

After 56 matches in what was considered as the widest race to the Final Four in recent years, we finally have the cast of the semifinals.

In this piece, we take a look at the matchup between the second seed and defending champion De La Salle University Lady Spikers, and the dark horse of the competition, the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses.

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UST Golden Tigresses

Spike – 33.76% (2nd)

Block – 1.48 per set (7th)

Serve – 2.12 ace per set (5th)

Dig – 15.88 per set (1st)

Set – 10.80 per set (4th)

Receive – 21.34% (7th)

Entering Season 79, the Golden Tigresses were riding on so much hype after a fruitful offseason, including a Unigames crown and a stellar showing in the Shakey's V-League Reinforced Conference.

But four games in the season and the Tigresses found themselves at the lower echelon of the standings with a 1-3 record.

And just as everyone was counting them out of the competition, UST unleashed their preseason form and won eight out of their 10 assignments to end the elimination round at the third spot.

The Tigresses' entry to the Final Four was not an easy one. They had to overcome a two-set disadvantage against the National University Lady Bulldogs and survive a 30-point explosion from Jaja Santiago to formally enter the semis—something they've missed for the past four seasons.

So what towed them to the Final Four? Two Ds: defense and deep bench.

The fact is, UST is not known as a great defensive team. In fact, supporters and pundits agree that UST is home to great spikers and blockers, but not great defensive players.

This is why it's a surprise that the Tigresses ended the elimination round as the best digging team averaging 15.88 excellent digs per set.

Now liberos Pat Rasmo and Rica Rivera are not the sole masterminds behind this; half of the credit should go to their open spikers in EJ Laure and Sisi Rondina.

No doubt, UST has the best set of starting open spikers in the league. But what makes the Laure-Rondina tandem deadlier is that they added defense to their arsenal and registered a couple of double-double performances in the second round.

Their deep bench is also to be credited in their resurgence in the second round.

Coach Emilio "Kung Fu" Reyes Jr. had the luxury of bringing in players from his bench, including setter Alina Bicar, lefty Caitlyn Viray, the explosive Dimdim Pacres and the latest trick up his sleeves, Tin Francisco.

The supporting cast will play a crucial role if they want to upset a balanced squad like De La Salle. The Lady Spikers will surely put up towering blocks on Laure and Rondina, and it is up to the rest of the team to provide the bonus points.

But first, they will need to address their first ball problems first as they are the second worst in the league.

DLSU Lady Spikers

Spike – 33.36% (3rd)

Block – 2.33 per set (1st)

Serve – 2.74 ace per set (2nd)

Dig – 14.22 per set (5th)

Set – 12.15 per set (1st)

Receive – 39.38% (1st)

After regaining the crown against archrivals Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles last year, the DLSU Lady Spikers were not heavily favored to win it again because they lost the nucleus of their championship team with the likes of Ara Galang and Mika Reyes.

But just like what he has been doing for La Salle for two decades, head coach Ramil de Jesus proves his program is for the long term.

Setter Kim Fajardo's decision to use her last year of eligibility also boosted La Salle's bid for a back-to-back.

Season 78 Finals MVP Kim Dy, in a previous interview, said she thinks the team is peaking at the right time, and that claim has some substance.

The prototype La Salle blocking machine is still in effect with Majoy Baron and the emerging Aduke Ogunsanya.

Their open hitters are also starting to show up. Sure, it's not easy to fill the void left by the likes of Galang and Cyd Demecillo, but Desiree Cheng and Tin Tiamzon starred for La Salle in the second round.

The ever reliable Dawn Macandili is still there cleaning the taraflex court with her excellent floor defense.

What's puzzling is the Lady Spikers' tendency to shut down whenever they have the lead and when the opponent mounts a comeback. At least that's what they showed in their encounters with Ateneo.

But one thing's for sure for La Salle; they know how to bounce back after a loss. They did it with FEU when they limited the Lady Tamaraws to only five points in the first set.

The Lady Spikers are heavily favored to win in this matchup simply because of experience. They have been in the semifinals for so long unlike UST, with most of their players playing in the semis for the first time.

All DLSU needs to do is solidify their blocks, especially when UST players who are not Rondina and Laure start to heat up.

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