Volleyball evangelist Tex Suter previews the UAAP women’s volleyball Final Four match-ups. Defending champion DLSU faces UST while archrival Ateneo tackles FEU. How will these matches play out? Tex gives his analysis.
DLSU VS. UST
Here is a match-up that is very interesting because it involves both teams performing well on the defensive side of the ball. Let us look at the subtle differences in tactics involved that can give each team its best chance of success. They have to serve tough, defend and transition. All teams must do this, but we will dig a bit deeper.
We begin by looking at the defending champions, DLSU. We all know what they are capable of and who to watch on the team, but it will be the intangibles on the floor that will determine whether they repeat as champs or not. Their strengths lie in their middle and setting abilities. Kim Fajardo can run a game by controlling the middle, thus controlling the game’s tempo. If they can rule the middle, they usually dominate their opponent. The question is, what if they cannot sustain a middle threat? The answer now rests with the wings. Since Kim Dy is a very marked hitter, the two left sides are now the offensive key. Des Cheng and Tine Tiamzon will have to both score in the higher double digits for the Lady Spikers to have any success. They have been a little inconsistent as of late, but when they are on DLSU becomes a very formidable team. This is only if they do not have a consistent middle attack. You really lose a lot if Majoy Baron and Faluke Ongunsanya are taken out of the equation. If the two middles are not in rhythm with the game, they lose their efficiency.
Now that the offensive side has been discussed, we will now look at the intangible aspect. Floor defense is such a vital part of any team’s success, as the offense is totally reliant on it. Dawn Macandili deserves every compliment she gets as she is the absolute steadying factor of DLSU’s back row. She is but one player among six, thus needs support from the rest. There have been instances where the ball was popped up by Dawn, then fell to the ground or as two or more players hesitated. The mistake was they all posed to hit before the actual transition into offense happened. The rule is defend first then transition. There needs to be a little more clarity as to the transition options or who will hit in certain situations. There is still a little confusion in that aspect. That is an intangible skill, and can only be solved with practice. Not practice executing plays, but practice communicating during a rally and getting to the outlet hitter.
Here is a team that struggled with finding that one leader that can help them come together. They really started playing to potential toward the end of the first round. Their quest for a leader produced something no one expected, they found two leaders: Sisi Rondina and EJ Laure. The two have been shining examples of fighting spirit and defense. Let’s see what this team needs to do above and beyond the usual.
Offensively they are okay, not really at the upper echelon in my opinion. Why are they doing so well? Their offensive success comes from their transition game. They engage their opponents into a battle of attrition. The longer the points, my money is on UST winning that point. They just throw more attacks at you and induce errors. That sounds simple, but the intangible force there is their defense by committee. Laure and Rondina have emerged as the leaders in this aspect, as well as the offense. The Tigress pair have a knack of scoring in crucial situations during long rallies. EJ loves hitting that sharp cross court from the left, and everybody knows it. The difference is in long rallies, defenses tend to slowly move out of position and it creates an angle for EJ to work with. Sisi on the other hand will always find a crack in the block, especially if the middle blocker is slightly late. She needs but a little daylight to get through blocks. They anchor the defense and offense, not bad for the youngsters. If Meneses can block solidly, Cortez and Francisco can have steady performances, this team is a handful as they can take the fight out of you.
The Golden Tigresses will rely heavily on their two leaders that have apparently embraced the role. If they can keep DLSU in long rallies without middle play, they definitely have an edge there. Again, they must defend by committee for a transition chance.
Prediction: DLSU in four sets to advance to the finals
Ateneo vs. FEU
This team has had problems with consistency to keep it simple. With the talent they have, it was surprising to see them almost not make it to the final four. Consistency is their main problem, as they are definitely not lacking in the talent department.
Offensively this is an intimidating team. Pons, Palma and Basas will give any defense headaches, as they are such established weapons for FEU. The key is for them to pass the ball with efficiency. The pass must be good enough to run a play for Remy Palma. If she can be established, the offense can now run anywhere it wants to. The inconsistency happens when Palma or Pons have to go to the back row. Villareal must make her presence felt in the middle, and Guino-o or Malabanan must put pressure on the defense from the left side. Another aspect of their game that needs a boost in the consistency department is their service game. They give way too many free points from the service line and that kills any momentum, as we all are aware of. When this team is firing on all cylinders, they are a joy to watch. The speed of the combination plays are impressive as Pons and Basas are hard to check when it’s happening.
The Lady Tamaraws must be consistent in order to be efficient. Too many weapons without a consistent pass is like having no weapons. Also, after scoring a point they must get their serve in to consolidate the points. Tactically they will be fine as Coach Shaq is a master of the adjustment to the other team. They will just need to execute the basics and they will have a chance at success.
This team is the example of efficiency and consistency. They involve all their weapons and defend very well. There are few instances of miscues in the transition game. Jia Morado is a great communicator on the court so all her hitters are engaged. That is not an easy skill to master, as it is as much about attitude as it is about skill. If this team can dictate their tempo on the opponent, they stand a very good chance at regaining the crown. Let’s see a little more to the recipe for success and what they must do to avoid failure.
The offense is so fluent when they get a good pass. Morado can run an offense and the opponent is always put at a disadvantage trying to figure out where the attack will come from. Ateneo just has to impose their game on their foes and that automatically puts them on a more defensive stance and limits transition attacks. They are good servers and that is where the attack begins to try to induce a free ball, then Jia can do her thing and keep the defense guessing.
With all that said, how do you beat them? You must take them out of system and force a battle of the wings. You must take the middle game out as much as possible and make the Lady Eagles defend more. The tough serving has to be to specific targets in the back row. You can wear one hitter down and then the defense can predict the direction of attack a little more. In the games lost by Ateneo, the pass was shaky and the middles did not get into the flow of the game so their tempo was inconsistent, hence readable. The tough serving also takes Jia Morado’s offensive strategy out and forces her hand to go to the wings. Take your chances with the wings, although I am not not saying that the wings of Ateneo are weak. I would rather take my chances knowing where the attack was coming from than having to guess. You can always zone the hitter into the teeth of your defense and transition.
Prediction: Ateneo in five sets, advances to finals