"Talo ng marami ang nag-iisa:” Team effort fuels AU in finals series against Soltones-led SSCR

Team effort fuels AU in finals series against SSCR
“Nasa kanila ang pinakamagaling na spiker sa NCAA, pero talo ng marami ang nag-iisa.” -- Arellano University head coach Obet Javier

If many NCAA fans are surprised that the Arellano University Lady Chiefs have taken a 2-0 lead in the finals against the team that swept the elimination round, head coach Obet Javier is not one of them.

“Noong natalo kami [noong elimination round], kita mong nasaktan ‘yung mga bata,” says the veteran coach. “Sabi namin sa isa’t isa, ‘hindi na sila uulit pa.’” They were serious—the Lady Chiefs are now on an 11-game winning streak. 

They shocked the San Sebastian Lady Stags by taking the first match in straight sets, led by the combined efforts of Mary Ann Esguerra, Andrea Marzan and Regine Arocha, whom Javier calls their most improved player. Superior blocking gave them the advantage, limiting the reigning MVP Grethcel Soltones to just 15 points of 45 attempts.

Javier asked for more of the same before their second match: “Nasa kanila ang pinakamagaling na spiker sa NCAA, pero talo ng marami ang nag-iisa.”

It would prove to be a tougher battle that lasted to the fifth set with several deadlocks. But while the Lady Stags’ took the first set and at times seemed to be back to winning form, they also gave up 51 points off errors to their opponents. Arellano’s largest lead of the afternoon? The third set, 25-11.

This time, the best player was the shortest one on the Lady Chiefs’ roster: 5’2” Rhea Martinez, calm and collected with 81 excellent sets. Rialen Sante delivered powerful cross-court attacks, while Jovie Prado took control of the third set.

There’s no lack of motivation for the Lady Chiefs. The older players are eager to reclaim the crown they last held in 2015. And while they don’t talk about it on the court, the team is spurred on by the memory of Javier’s wife Amy, who recently passed away after a long battle with cancer.

“Nu’ng time na malaman ng mga players ko na ganoon nga, ang unang sinabi sa akin ng mga players sa akin, ‘Coach ito yung una sa mga motivation namin. Iaalay namin ito kay Tita,’” Javier told ABS-CBN Sports last week.

In terms of mental toughness, Javier thinks his team would rate 9/10. It’s just a matter of maturity and initiative, he says. The coach, himself a former setter, gave his players time to talk amongst themselves before entering the fifth set of the second game. He stepped back, letting the girls motivate each other and huddle in prayer. 

It worked, and the Lady Chiefs haven’t just neutralized the Lady Stags’ thrice-to-beat advantage; they’ve taken the lead. When the two squads face each other on Tuesday in the PhilSports Arena, it will be do or die for San Sebastian to force a fourth match.

No doubt the Lady Chiefs will be drawing on Javier’s words from one of their crucial timeouts. “Nabawi na natin ‘yung dati,” he told the team. “Ngayon, ipanalo niyo na.”

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Ceej Tantengco is a reporter and writer for S+A. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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