WHAT IF… Bea De Leon missed the rest of Season 77?
Mark Escarlote on May 27, 2020 07:08 PM
(Photo: ABS-CBN News file photo)
Ateneo de Manila University achieved perfection in UAAP Season 77 after the Lady Eagles swept their way to a second straight women’s volleyball title.
Stacked with powerful hitters in Alyssa Valdez, Michelle Morente, Ella de Jesus and Jho Maraguinot, Ateneo’s offense was unstoppable.
The Katipunan-based squad also had prized setter Jia Morado and libero Denden Lazaro with veteran middle Amy Ahomiro.
But another vital cog that made Ateneo a super team that year was the presence of rookie middle Bea De Leon.
The former Poveda standout earned a starting spot in the Tai Bundit-mentored team, which the year before completed a Cinderella story with a championship.
De Leon proved her worth and even had a strong case for the coveted Rookie of the Year award.
She was having a splendid season until she was forced to miss three games after suffering a finger injury during practice with Ateneo already in a 10-game romp.
De Leon chose to just have her left index finger stitched and have therapy than go under the knife.
She returned just in time for the pivotal end of the elimination round match against archrival De La Salle University.
Getting the green light to play on the eve of the game, De Leon was surprised as she was included in the starting line-up and she did not disappoint.
De Leon, who risked aggravating her heavily bandaged finger, scored 11 points including three kill blocks in the Lady Eagles’ 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 27-25, victory that sent Ateneo straight to the Finals with a thrice-to-beat advantage.
From there, Ateneo made history.
But what if De Leon underwent surgery?
One thing is for sure, De Leon would be out of commission for an extended period if not for the remainder of the season.
Without her, Ateneo would surely be in a precarious situation in that decisive end of the elims match against the Lady Spikers.
Taking down DLSU won’t be easy for the Lady Eagles to begin with.
In their first meeting, Ateneo had to come back from a set down to outlast DLSU in a five sets match.
Without De Leon, Coach Tai would be forced to put in either veteran but seldom-used Aeriel Patnongon or another rookie Maddie Madayag to help Ahomiro. Both rode the bench in the first Ateneo-DLSU encounter.
DLSU, which was coming off a six-game win run, would be in a favorable position to exploit its height advantage and would’ve had an open sky for the Lady Spikers’ hitters.
And if DLSU won that game against an Ateneo squad missing its starting middle, that would put the semifinals in the usual Final Four format.
The Lady Eagles will still have a twice-to-beat advantage and would still overpower Far Eastern University. As for DLSU, coming off a win over Ateneo, the Lady Spikers would be in high spirits against National University.
The twice-to-beat Lady Spikers might not need to go to a do-or-die decider against the Lady Bulldogs. Probably, DLSU would have been spared of losing its best scorer Ara Galang from a harrowing knee injury.
Of course, the Finals would’ve been a different story.
Ateneo will be missing De Leon’s Finals average of eight points per game and a vital piece both on offense and defense.
But then again, the Lady Eagles still had its ace Valdez and their reliable wings to take care of the scoring as well as the steady Ahomiro.
We can never know what the outcome of that Finals series would have been if De Leon missed the rest of the season.
But we can surely say that De Leon’s return from that finger injury proved to be a decisive moment in the Lady Eagles' historic perfect season.
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