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DLSU Lady Archers Book Finals Seat; but Big Thanks to NU Lady Bulldogs

In the first set of yesterday’s titanic UAAP women’s volleyball Season 76 battle between the DLSU Lady Archers and the NU Lady Bulldogs at the coliseum, in a game played before the season’s first mammoth crowd, it would have been impossible to tell who were the 3-time defending champions on a hot 29-game streak and the crown pretenders anxious to write history.

The scoreline does not lie; and the 25-14 first set win by the Lady Bulldogs over an out-of-sorts Lady Archers was as comprehensive as the scoreline indicated. It had been coming, too.

Credit must always be given where credit is due; and, indeed, the Lady Bulldogs stepped on the playing court for the first set with all their big guns blazing. Between them, Dindin Santiago and Myla Pablo engineered a stunning 11-2 run that overcame an early lead by the Lady Archers, who ended the set shell-shocked and groping for answers.

Season 76 had been a jolly joy ride for the defending champions that there was every prospect of the team catching white line fever. Clinically efficient in the first round when all rivals – including the highly-touted Lady Bulldogs – were disposed of with clockwork reliability all in straight sets, the Lady Archers started to lose some of the cutting edge at a dangerous time in the season – the homestretch.

For most of the season, the Lady Archers needed adversity to wipe away the complacency that had started to creep in as a result of their relatively easy run leading up to yesterday’s titanic battle with the Lady Bulldogs.
Complacency, the scourge of all teams with title aspirations, had started to creep in. The team, at times, also looked jaded. What was more, it had started to look nervous and prone to errors, particularly when any of their opponents had the gumption to make a game of it.

The way things had started to go, it had all the markings of a Season 72 for the Lady Archers, when they were on their way to a similar sweep; only to be ambushed by a peaking UST in the homestretch.

The surprise of it all this season, perhaps, was that up until the match yesterday, only the Lady Tamaraws of FEU had managed to pinch a set from off the Lady Archers. The defending champions, for their own good, badly needed to be challenged.

So it was that yesterday, the opening set was probably not such a big surprise to those who have been closely following the league. On the one hand, there were the defending champions who were struggling to recapture the sharpness with which they blitzed all their rivals early on in the season.

On the other hand, there were the other hot favourites, who were themselves coming to the game with their own 10-game streak. The first set, arguably, was the test of character that the Lady Archers had been begging all of their rivals to give them.

The Lady Bulldogs duly obliged; but then faced a right proper conundrum. The Lady Archers were not 3-time defending champions by being limp of spine; and that they would respond was not for Einstein to figure out.

8-1 in favour of DLSU at the start of the second did not look flattering to the Lady Bulldogs at all; but from that early setback, the latter managed to tie the match at 24-all. It was, however, one thing for the Lady Bulldogs to put away the Lady Archers on the cushion of a 10-point lead; and another thing to do the same with the game tied at 24.

The Lady Bulldogs had no answers to this part of the conundrum; and DLSU took the set 26-24 to even the match at a set apiece. Ominously, the Wall of Taft – as pundits refer to DLSU’s terrifying blocking ability – had not yet been erected as DLSU only managed one block point from the opening two sets.

Moreover, the Lady Archers were still looking utterly unconvincing even in the second set. Ara Galang fought a lonely war as neither Abigail Maraño nor Mika Reyes was, as yet, at the top of her game.

NU raced away to an early 12-3 lead in the third set; but then the Wall of Taft made a belated entry into the game to nullify the Lady Bulldogs’ power hitters. Maraño was starting to enjoy herself and showed that power was not an NU monopoly to take her team to the second technical timeout ahead.

NU managed to scratch back at 18-all; but by that time, there was only one team that was able to soak in the pressure. The Lady Archers closed out the set at 25-21.

The fourth and final set, which the defending champions won 25-20, was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. The Lady Archers would build comfortable leads, almost tauntingly take their feet off the pedal to allow the Lady Bulldogs to come close and then burst away again to close out the set and, ultimately, the match.

With the win, the Lady Archers earned not only a 14-game sweep of the regular season but also booked a place in the finals with a frightening thrice-to-beat advantage. It may be folly, perhaps, for even the most loyal of NU fans to wager against them.

For most of the season, the Lady Archers needed adversity to wipe away the complacency that had started to creep in as a result of their relatively easy run leading up to yesterday’s titanic battle with the Lady Bulldogs.

While the Lady Archers probably did not start to look like their true selves until the fourth and final set, the truth probably was that the Lady Bulldogs might have done them a giant favour by not only winning the first set but also by giving them the good and hard game that they had needed all season long.

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