DOC VOLLEYBALL: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
AJ Pareja on Apr 10, 2019 01:25 PM
It is in the best interest of DLSU, UST, FEU, and UP to consider slight modern adjustments in their style of play should they aim to circumvent the strategy of the current top seed. - AJ Pareja
Setting the Standard
Enjoying a 10-win streak in the season to date, the Ateneo Lady Eagles continue to cement their title run and prove that their commendable outing during the PVL Open Conference was no beginner’s luck. Despite coming off with a rough start in the first round most attributable to the suboptimal passing and floor defense continuing from the PVL, head coach Oliver Almadro’s unbridled commitment to an overall modern system of play has powered the Lady Eagles amidst stiff competition and undeniably tough contenders.
Though much work is yet to be done in improving overall efficiency and individual performance, it is undeniable that Almadro’s modern approach has challenged and exploited weaknesses in the conventional and traditional styles of play that other teams still resort to. Save for strong pipe attacks last seen from former Lady Eagle Alyssa Valdez, strategies such as dedicated passers in both openers, zone specific floor defense, a dominant opposite posing significant threat from front and back, and minimal reliance on combination plays are few examples of how the Lady Eagles are adopting international standards to stay in front of the pack and challenge the conventional style of play the UAAP has been used to. It is in this sense that for the contenders still in the running to complete the Final Four roster, it is in the best interest of DLSU, UST, FEU, and UP to consider slight modern adjustments in their style of play should they aim to circumvent the strategy of the current top seed.
Regaining some ground as they have shown in past seasons, the De La Salle Lady Spikers are showing that they were never out of contention despite doubts stemming from their mid-season slump. With captain Des Cheng providing outputs to back up her trademark swag, Oduke Agunsanya starting to be an offensive threat with her B quicks, and rookie sensation Jolina Dela Cruz as a consistent source of points from the front right, the defending champs are once again starting to make the title defense more solid to date. Though the multi-awarded team takes much pride head coach Ramil De Jesus’ system that has spanned UAAP decades, the tried-and-tested strategy has been open to some innovations especially at times it was greatly challenged. As discussed in a previous feature, former coach rival Tai Bundit’s entry to the league was a call to evolution. Adapting the modern Setter-Open-Middle rotation, using the libero as setter when setter takes first ball, and pipe attacks from former power hitter Ara Galang, were some of the modern adjustments employed by the team that enabled them to finally solve the Bundit Riddle.
Against a frontrunner employing international standards, the Lady Spikers are once again called to innovate to improve their chances in defending the crown. With Cheng and Tin Tiamzon manning the left wing and Ogunsanya consistent with B quicks, DLSU is undoubtedly heavy on the left offensive. While Dela Cruz, their current best spiker, provides output up front from the right, her offensive presence is sorely missed when she is at the back row. Going up against the number one blocking team in the Lady Eagles to date, the Lady Spikers must be able to fire from all angles, be it the front or back in order to ease the burden off the left wings in trying to work around the ALE block.
Specializing the Squad
Despite the early unfortunate loss to injury of key player Milena Alessandrini, heavy pre-season favorite the UST Golden Tigresses still have their claws notched into the crown for the season. Finally taking up suit in adapting the modern S-O-M rotation proved to be the silver lining in UST’s campaign despite the absence of Alessandrini. Coach Kung Fu Reyes took a chance with the new strategy and his gamble made him win big with a sweep of the defending champs in the first round. Opening up the two open hitters in Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure to take the brunt of passing responsibilities has and continues to work wonders for the best attacking squad in the league. In line with that, the continuous revelation of Caitlin VIray as a convincing middle has been a crucial factor in UST’s commendable run thus far. While a simple rotation adjustment has improved UST’s offense by leaps and bounds, some traditional style of play still hampers the team from full domination of the league.
In most of their games, it is quite noticeable that despite having two of the top spikers in the league, UST is heavily reliant on the front offensive much like the Lady Spikers. Though heavily reliable in passing and floor defense, both Rondina and Laure’s presence on the back court proves to be waste of their offensive capabilities. Trouble seems to stem out also with the lack of specificity in which area both hitters are supposed to defend as both are observed to defend either zone 6 or zone 5 on transition depending if the libero is inside the court or not. In instances where middles come off the serve, the openers defend zone 5 while the middles go for the sweep or zone 6. Such defense pattern is outdated already in a sense that the openers are ideally defending zone 6 consistently as they can go for the pipe attack on transition. In line with that, it is quite observable also how Eya Laure, instead of the libero, frequently takes the second ball to set when the setter gets the first touch. This proves problematic for UST as Eya Laure is a significant offensive option taken out whenever she goes up to set. Despite the adaptation of a modern rotation, old-school tendencies still limit the Tigresses from their full potential. Though it goes against the conventional thinking that a great player is that who can perform multiple positions, being highly specialized with a certain role is the overall trend employed in top level of play and that is the challenge faced by UST now.
Efficiency is Key
Much like their long-time volleyball rival UST, the FEU Lady Tamaraws were the last to adapt the modern SOM rotation which is undeniably a step in the right direction. Despite the loss to injury of key rookie Lycha Ebon, the Lady Tams were able to hold their ground against UP’s tough serving to stay in the running for a final four spot.
However, similar to their Golden Tigresses counterparts, the new modern rotation is just one step towards volleyball modernization but their full potential is also limited by still conventional tendencies, most especially with their attack strategy.
Not short of height in Jerrili Malabanan, Ced Domingo, and Heather Guino-o on the offensive, the Lady Tams can definitely use height to their advantage attacking from the pins with Domingo manning the middle. The problem arises with the team’s over reliance on the combination x-play as such attack strategy only works with consistent and efficient passing. While the x-play (on rare occasions) is still seen on top level volley as a surprise attack, using it as a bread and butter offensive strategy simply doesn’t work against teams who are aggressive in serving and can read the block well (i.e. Ateneo and La Salle). It also doesn’t help the Lady Tams that such offensive strategy requires a high amount of consistency in the passing department but their current passing performance as a team (8th overall) makes the execution of the play more prone to errors. To challenge the top two seeds who are to no surprise the top two blocking teams also in the league, FEU is challenged to use a strategy that has less strict passing quality requirements while at the same time maximizing height from the pins to disperse the opponent’s block formation.
Accuracy vs. Precision
UAAP Season 81 has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for the reigning PVL Collegiate Conference champs. The UP Lady Maroons have hit the bullseye on several occasions especially with an elimination round sweep of the defending champions but their overall performance has been a hit or miss. Being the only team thus far to hold off the defending champions in both the first and second encounters proves that the Lady Maroons are worthy of the crown, but failing to conquer the other contenders puts their consistency in question. The temporary loss of Issa Molde to injury has proven quite troublesome for the Lady Maroons and in their recent loss to the FEU Lady Tamaraws in which an interesting reversion to the outdated SMO rotation (to no avail) puts doubt on the Lady Maroons moving forward in the competition.
Out of all the other contenders trailing behind the Lady Eagles for the crown, the UP Lady Maroons are the team that comes closest in the checklist of modern style of play. Much like their Katipunan counterparts, the Lady Maroons have a strong dominant opposite that can rack up points from the front and back row, relatively aggressive serving targets, frequent attempts to attack fast from the pins, and minimal reliance on combination plays. The big difference however lies in the way the current top seed commits to the strategy of having two dedicated passers in the open hitters while the Lady Maroons still heavily involve opposite Tots Carlos in their own passing formation. While Carlos has proven herself capable of holding her ground in the reception department, it exposes her as a target for teams to take her out of the attack equation with well-placed heavy serves. While her blue counterpart Kat Tolentino enjoys the luxury of not being burdened by passing responsibilities and just focuses on her main role as the top offensive option, Carlos on the other hand is prone to being exploited by aggressive serving to either delay or disrupt her approach as she goes for the attack. Justine Dorog and Issa Molde have proven themselves capable of delivering the reception duties and with the return of the latter from minor injury, readjusting their formation to ease off some burden from their main attacker would undoubtedly be beneficial for UP to stay alive in the competition.