Doc Volleyball: The Mean Maroon Machine
AJ Pareja on Feb 23, 2017 01:41 PM
Nicole Tiamzon and the rest of the UP squad has only dropped one set after four games as the Lady Maroons lead the UAAP 79 Women's Volleyball tournament.
After shooting down a young Adamson squad, breaking a surging UE wall, upsetting the defending champions La Salle, and taming the Tigresses of UST, the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons are now within waters they haven’t charted in recent UAAP history – that of being tournament frontrunners. At 4-0 midway through the first round, all eyes are now on the Lady Maroons and the community is both excited and curious if they can maintain such a stellar performance. Having such standing in a tournament in which at least six contenders are considered for the crown, what UP has achieved so far is definitely no easy feat. This season’s roster for the Lady Maroons is not too different from the previous ones but if there’s one thing in coach Gerry Yee’s book that has been working wonders for UP now is their synchronicity.
A Constellation Rather Than a Single Star
Digressing from the usual team composition of other competitors from seasons past, the UP Lady Maroons noticeably lack a particular individual icon. While a few key players such as Kathy Bersola, Nicole Tiamzon, and Diana Carlos are getting quite a following in the community, their popularity are nowhere near that of icons such as Alyssa Valdez or Mika Reyes – and that is actually a good thing for them. A major factor in UP’s current commendable performance is that no specific player is the usual suspect to bring in the points. Throughout the first four matches they have dominated so far, key performances have been varied from player to player. The lack of an icon works well for UP since it gives other teams a challenge in terms of scouting. UP, based on their previous four outings, is expected to perform well each match, but the player who would determine their victory is unpredictable. Like looking for constellations rather than a single star, assessing UP lies more in analyzing the team as a whole and not by its individuals.
Efficiency in Simplicity
In more technical aspects, UP has proven that going back to basics and pursuing mastery can work wonders for a team. As compared to their tournament counterparts, UP can be considered as the team that plays the least creative style of collegiate volleyball. In terms of their floor defense, setting and attack strategy, UP noticeably plays simple and repeatable volleyball – and again, that is a good thing.
Looking at UP’s floor defense patterns, it is quite evident that coach Yee ensures that the defenders are well placed on location and unnecessary movements are limited. Limiting movement while defending is crucial since propping up the passing or digging platform (arm angle) heavily relies on establishing one’s footing. High quality first ball contacts come from stable platforms. Ideally, instead of doing extra movements to cover the court, defenders or passers should first analyze where the ball will likely land and be agile enough to establish their footing at that location. As such, it has been quite noticeable that UP is starting to implement such strategy in their floor defense. Compared to previous seasons, UP defenders are more agile and better at limiting unnecessary movements. The Lady Maroons defending with less extra motion might seem boring or less entertaining to watch compared to the still predominant “scrappy” type of defense but it is undeniably much more practical and efficient.
From minimizing floor defense motions, UP’s setting and attack strategy also lacks the entertainment factor. Having a rookie setter in their captain Ayel Estranero, UP so far has not been well known to be heavily reliant on fancy combination plays – and again, its actually a good thing. As compared to the current trend in which combination x-plays are the bread and butter offense options of other teams, UP relies more on consistently located sets to the pins and well timed quick hits. While the lack of their combinations may prove to be less entertaining, such style is less prone to errors and more efficient to execute. One might argue that UP’s system is highly predictable due to its repetitive nature but it should be considered also that UP’s wings are actually highly adept at varying their hitting angles and that their middles’ attack prowess is significant enough to draw blockers. In line with that, it should also be noted that in the international scene, the current offensive trend relies less on combination plays and more on mastery of fast setting to the pins. UP is pretty much aware of this trend perhaps from their overseas training and their transition to such offensive strategy is proving to be troublesome to its competitors.
Currently the only team left yet to experience a loss, UP undoubtedly has all eyes set on them. Their current frontrunner status has definitely shifted the focus towards them and that teams would be more pressed in scouting and halting their run. As such, the Lady Maroons need to ensure that they continue to enhance their efficiency as a team. Some aspects they can definitely work on are their serving, blocking and attack speed.
While some players have brought in the aces in some games, UP is yet to prove that they are a significant threat on the service line. The Lady Maroons can work more on making consistent low flat serves that are well placed enough to pin the middles of the opposing teams. Having yet to face teams with strong middles such as NU, FEU and AdMU, UP has to ensure that their services are aggressive enough to disrupt the approach of the middles so that they can easily load up their blocks against the wings. Given that they already have relatively more discipline on the floor, UP can significantly enhance their defensive game if their services are already causing trouble to their opponent’s attack setup.
Finally, given that UP’s attack strategy is the least fancy of all, they can further lessen its predictability with faster delivery of ball to the pins. Despite her first year as a setter, Estranero has been commendable for her ball distribution and utilization of her middles. Since they will be suiting up against teams with big middles, UP should ensure that their offense is fast enough to prevent opposing middles from closing the gap. This does not necessarily mean that they should limit the height or hasten their first ball contact to speed up the play. Rather, coming from a high first ball, Estranero can shoot for sets with minimal difference between the timing of the middle and the wings.