‘V-L babies’ recover from sputtering start

Danny Santillan on Jun 27, 2016 03:52 PM
‘V-L babies’ recover from sputtering start
Rookies of University of the Philippines are the ‘V-L babies’ (photo by Nante Azures)

Those who know volleyball like the palms of their hands were shocked to see the Lady Fighting Maroons of the University of the Philippines, the sensational  rookie-heavy squad of the last season they now endearingly call the V-League babies, slam into a pair of crushing defeats in the early goings of the Shakey’s V-League Season 13-Open Conference.

Playing way, way off their fighting form in their first two games, the Diliman team bowed to Pocari Sweat and Philippine Air Force both in straight sets, losing to the Lady Warriors, 18-25, 14-25, 22-25, and to the Lady Jet Spikers, 25-27, 19-25, 17-27. Something was clearly amiss with the team known for its prolific players when in those games, not one from their side scored in double digits. Nicole Tiamzon could only come up with nine points against Pocari Sweat and the pair of team captain Kathy Bersola and Isa Molde with seven each against Air Force.  

The bespectacled Bersola, as exceptional in her studies as she is on the court, attributed the slump mainly to another period of adjustment they had to make with the abrupt departure of setter Jewel Lai from their lineup. It was with Lai when the Lady Maroons ousted the National U Lady Bulldogs to crash back into the UAAP Final Four last season after years and years of disappointing finishes.

“After the UAAP we went into more tournament games but without the benefits of training. We’d just like go direct to those games. And then one week before this league (Shakey’s V-League) we lost Jewel Lai,” Bersola said.

She refused to divulge the reasons behind Lai’s sudden disappearance from the team.

Coach Jerry Yee, who wondrously transformed his eight newcomers last year into a consistently high-performing bunch,  had no other recourse but to whip his reserve setters Mae Basarte and Rose Mary Cailing into full battle-readiness in time.

Against Team Baguio in their next game, his spikers started jelling with the setters, particularly with Basarte, who accounted for 37 of UP’s 39 excellent sets to prime up Justine Dorog (13 points), Tiamzon (11), Molde (11), and Diana Mae Carlos (10) for two-digit outputs. There were shaky moments on their way to only their first win in three outings, but the Lady Maroons served notice that they were back to their  fighting form.     

They next severely tested Balipure, a team reuniting Ateneo’s UAAP graduates led by the prodigious Alyssa Valdez, even forging ahead two sets to one before giving up in five sets, 25-20, 22-25, 25-15, 17-25, 12-15. In their third setback in four matches, though, three from the Diliman-based squad showed how much firepower they packed in their arms. Molde exploded with 22 points, Bersola with 19, and Dorog with 10.     

The Lady Maroons, bannered by Carlos’ 13-point binge,  displayed balanced scoring in throttling the Iriga City Lady Oragons, scoring their second victory to keep their semifinal hopes alive at 2-3, then rode high on the combined 66-point output of Carlos (22 points), Molde (16), Bersola (14) and Dorog (14) to send the Jaja Santiago-led NU Lady Bulldogs to the exits in four thrilling sets,  25-22, 25-27, 25-13, 25-22, in one hour and 29 minutes and send them into a knockout match against Team Laoag at 3-3 each for the fourth and last semifinal berth set Monday, June 12, at Philsports Arena in Pasig in one of two games ending the one-round elimination series.    

First through to the Final Four are Pocari Sweat (6-0), Air Force (5-1) and Balipure (5-2). Pocari and Air Force are also to meet on Monday.


Explosive V-L debut     

Long a cellar-dweller in the UAAP, the Lady Fighting Maroons made a surprise appearance in the Collegiate Conference of the 12th season of the Shakey’s V-League last year, carrying in their lineup seven  exciting rookies in the 16-17 age bracket. They were preparing early for the incoming UAAP season at the time, according to coach Yee, using the league to gain exposure for the team, particularly for the greenhorns.

Right from the get-go, Molde and Dorog, who graduated from the same elementary school in Catmon in Cebu, made a splash as they outscored their veteran teammates game after game. Carlos, a discovery from Pampanga, raised her game when UP reappeared for the season-ending Reinforced Conference with yet another rookie in Aiesha Lane Gannaban.

It is par for the course for the pioneering V-League to unveil not a few promising talents scattered on different teams in each of its 13 seasons, but it’s something to be treated to a bunch of eight rookies from one team delivering exceptional performances that sometimes bordered on brilliant. And using their two-Conference exposure in the V-League against established stars  who were already making a name for themselves when they were  in grade schools and still learning the rudiments of the sport, Molde, Carlos, Dorog, Basarte, Gannaban, Cailing, Sheena Mae Chopitea, and Maristela Genn Layug & Co. joined hands with mainstays Bersola, Tiamzon, Marian Buitre, Princess Gaiser and Arielle Estranero to carry UP to a seat in the UAAP Final Four last season.  

As fearsome as coach Yee’s charges are in offense, they are also a force to reckon with in blocking as well as in floor defense, thanks to Gaiser and Estranero.     

The men and women of Sports Vision, founder and organizer of the now incredibly popular V-League, would like to think that the trailblazing league in women’s volleyball helped make the UP Lady Maroons into what they are now -- an exceptionally well-rounded team. It should gratify them that UP team manager Cecile Ronquillo would always acknowledge V-League’s role in defining her team.

Now if film producer Mother Lily Monteverde has her Regal Babies, why can’t Sports Vision founder and chairman of the board Moying Martelino have his own V-League Babies in the UP Lady Maroons?

After all, Molde & Co. made their first ever public appearance with UP in the 12th season of the V-League last year.


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