A view from the La Salle-Ateneo dejavu

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For most of the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament, the Ateneo Lady Eagles embraced being Superman. They have dominated the challengers along their path and pulled off two wins despite facing an 0-2 hole.

However, even the Man of Steel is vulnerable to Kryptonite. Interestingly, the Katipunan unit’s weakness is exposed by a squad that dons the same color as the fictitious crystal.

In two games played, the Lady Eagles wilt against the De La Salle Lady Spikers. But while they were able to salvage one set in their round one encounter, their latest clash at the Smart Araneta Coliseum turned out worse for the blue and white.

De La Salle neutralized Ateneo’s blocking

That the Lady Eagles not having a single kill block in three sets is anomalous especially when Maddie Madayag alone had 11 against the UST Golden Tigresses. Still, Coach Ramil De Jesus’ crew cannot be discredited for executing their game plan against the formidable wall of Madayag, Kat Tolentino, and Bea de Leon.

A strong blocking team thrives on two things: pace and predictability. Teams playing at a slower pace are precarious prey for defenders who are adept at reading attacks. Likewise, blockers can sniff the play if it is done repetitively to a fault.

How did the Lady Spikers counter the Ateneo net wall? They gave more touches to their middle blockers. Michelle Cobb ran a number of quick attacks and running spikes that shortened the Lady Eagles’ reaction time. As a result, Des Clemente and Aduke Ogunsanya combined for 20 points. They were efficient as well for Clemente needed only 19 attempts to get eight attack points while Ogunsanya had less to tally seven. Even May Luna added nine points despite coming off the bench.

It’s not that the Lady Eagles did not try to neutralize De La Salle’s attack. It’s just that they were often caught guessing where the hit would come from. The variety from the Lady Spikers’ offense made them vulnerable.

DLSU giving ADMU a dose of their own medicine

Adding insult to injury, De La Salle had six kill blocks of their own. That doesn’t even count the balls they slowed down to make it easy for the likes of CJ Saga, Desiree Cheng, and Jolina Dela Cruz to execute better passes. The Lady Spikers are aware of their opponent’s tendencies and aligned their defense according to who’s hitting the ball for Ateneo. No wonder Saga was named player of the game with 21 excellent digs. That may not be eye-popping but it’s close to a set’s worth of possible scores.

In service they trust

Just like in the first game, the Lady Spikers banked on a strong service game that translated into eight service aces. The Taft squad bestowed pressure on Ponggay Gaston and Kim Gequillana by targeting then on service. Despite the bulls eye implanted on her by the De La Salle servers, Gaston still led Ateneo with 12 receptions on 28 attempts. That 42.8% clip is nowhere near the 14/19 by Saga to lead De La Salle.

The Lady Eagles’ troubles with the first ball were well documented in the first two sets. After mustering just 17 points in the opening frame, things turned bad by finishing with only 13 in set two.

Hope is not lost for the Lady Eagles

By defeating the top team in dominating fashion, the Lady Spikers gained momentum in capturing their fourth-straight title and 12th overall. The battle is not yet over for the Lady Eagles, though. But they can’t expect to win the championship if their service reception problems persist. Should they meet in the Finals, a major portion of Ateneo’s practices should be devoted in getting the first ball right. Otherwise, Kryptonite will wilt their chance at glory away.

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