DOC VOLLEYBALL: How Rivals Push Each Other to the Top
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 19, 2019 12:24 PM
Despite some concerning hurdles experienced during the mid-season, the DLSU Lady Spikers have shown resilience expected of a defending champion.
Soaring in unfamiliar territory with a commendable 10-game winning streak, the Ateneo Lady Eagles looked sharp and poised in their conquest for the crown. While the momentum was a cause of celebration for the ALE loyalists, the current top seed unsurprisingly had the biggest target mark on their wings as the competition narrows down to the Final Four. The Lady Eagles’ relatively most modern approach and style of play has undeniably triggered an arms race in the UAAP. Forced to adapt innovations from their conventional plays, other feisty contenders such as the defending champs De La Salle Lady Spikers, UST Golden Tigresses, FEU Lady Tamaraws, and UP Lady Maroons (who recently bowed out of Final Four contention), are trying to keep up with the rapid increase in necessity of volleyball modernization brought about by the Lady Eagles' dominance. And just like in an arms race, some are bound to catch up with the trail blazer and that is what the defending champs just did against their long time rivals.
The Ateneo Lady Eagles are undoubtedly more technically sound strategy-wise than their previous Season 80 selves. With dominant middles and opposites, dedicated passers, and setters not reliant at all on combination plays, the Lady Eagles improved by leaps and bounds in steering their own program and perhaps the league into finally playing a new age of modern Philippine volleyball.
While much can still be improved in individual fundamentals and biomechanics, the mere fact that there is a modern strategy adapted by the team as a whole has been effective in overcoming their tough adversaries. As discussed in the previous article, the Lady Eagles are ahead of the pack due to the adaptation of a modern style of play and their contenders are pressed to innovate themselves should they wish to challenge the current top seed. And that is what the defending champions, the De La Salle Lady Spikers just did.
Despite some concerning hurdles experienced during the mid-season, the Lady Spikers have shown resilience expected of a defending champion. While doubts on their capabilities in defending the crown were set in place due to back-to-back losses and falling specialty stats like serve in block, the Lady Spikers held their ground and climbed their way back up the stats. Prior to their encounter with their rivals, the Lady Spikers were on a good momentum reclaiming the top spot in the service department while ranking as the second best blocking team and a respectable 4th best in setting, which are crucial stats to challenge the Lady Eagles.
Throughout the league, the only team that undoubtedly challenged the Lady Eagles' passing were the Lady Spikers from their opening weekend encounter. Though the Lady Eagles started their Season 81 campaign from the bottom with regards to passing, they have clawed their way up to a decent 4th spot prior to the match against the defending champions. Their second round however would be a repeat, if not worse, in terms of how the Lady Spikers showed mastery of the serve to exploit their passing and hold the offensive at bay.
While Ponggay Gaston and Jules Samonte have shown much improvement as the dedicated passers throughout the season, the struggle was evident as Michelle Cobb, Des Cheng, and May Luna dropped tough serves one after the other targeting zone 5 primarily to either take out the dynamic middle duo of Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon or delay the openers’ approach enough to set up a solid block. In line with that, the aggressive serving of La Salle also affected Kat Tolentino’s output in such a way that suboptimal passes forced Deana Wong to set the back higher than usual giving much time for the Taft Wall to set up.
Marksmen Find the Spot
If there’s one aspect of the game that has been mentioned numerous times about the Lady Spikers in terms of attack strategy, it is the severe lack of back row engagement. As mentioned in the previous feature, because of the mastery the Lady Eagles have shown this season in terms of blocking, it is the Lady Spikers' best interest to find other attack options to circumvent the ALE wall. With much output coming from Cheng and either Tin Tiamzon or Mae Luna from the left wing coupled with B quicks by Aduke Ogunsanya, the Lady Spikers’ attack strategy is definitely left side heavy which would be of worrisome going up against the triple tower combo of Madayag, De Leon, and Tolentino. As such, pipe attacks from the middle as well as right back row attacks for Jolina Dela Cruz would definitely ease the attack burden from the opens as well as keeping the tall blockers of Ateneo up on their feet.
Seeing the Lady Spikers finally adapt and engage the back row was such a marvel. With Michelle Cobb relying less on combination x-plays in the middle and instead setting up Dela Cruz from the back right was clearly beneficial for the team in addressing the challenging block imposed by their rivals. Though not yet an instant point for every attempt, Dela Cruz’s back row attacks challenged the ALE floor defense on transition to either help establish their own block or let Cobb setup a counter offensive. In line with that, it was highly notable how even Cheng and Luna were also highly engaged, and even successful, from the pipe attack despite being a last resort setup on a broken play. With long, high hits from the defending champs, the top blocking team was astoundingly held off with no block points at all, leaving the floor to struggle with the digs especially with attacks targeted towards the end and side lines.
Perhaps the cherry on top in the defending champions' rout of their rivals is the commendable performance of the two middles Ogunsanya and Des Clemente.
Though not as heavily favored stats-wise than their blue counterparts in the middle position, Clemente and Ogunsanya outstaged their rivals in terms of overall output throughout the match. With much credit to Cobb in engaging the spikers from the front and back, the middles were able to be on the offensive seamlessly as Clemente and Ogunsanya had remarkable 42% and 58% attack efficiencies, respectively.
The heavy serving of the team also complemented the net defense well. With the Ateneo offensive severely disrupted care of well-placed serves from Cheng, Cobb, and Luna, the middles were able to have a relatively easier time reading the spikers and setting up the block. With a whopping 67% success rate (one-touch and kill blocks combined), Clemente finally showed why she deserves the first middle spot given to her. Coupled with 33% across the board for Ogunsanya, Tiamzon, Cobb, and Dela Cruz, the Taft Wall proved too high for even the Lady Eagles to fly over.
Overall, reestablishing their trademark service and blocking game and the inclusion of a modern attack strategy in engaging the backrow proved to be the determining factor for the defending champs to be successful in their elimination round sweep of their top-seeded rivals.