Twice as nice, but for the National U Lady Bulldogs, their back-to-back title romp in the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference won’t be complete if they stumble again in pursuit of a dream championship – the UAAP.
After repulsing the Ateneo Lady Eagles in three to capture the V-League diadem last season, the Lady Bulldogs brimmed with confidence as they set out for the UAAP Season 78 wars. But their dream to end a long, long title spell for the school remained just that – a dream as the Lady Bulldogs fell short, too short to even make it to the Final Four.
But with another V-League win comes another hope for an NU side that won just two UAAP women’s volley plums – the last in 1957.
“I’m not saying that we’ll win the UAAP title,” said Jaja Santiago, who led the Lady Bulldogs to this year’s V-League championship and won the Conference MVP honors. “I’m just trying to say that we now have the confidence to accomplish it unlike before when we played tight and nervous.”
With the teamwork they showed in nailing their third V-League crown, incidentally all against the Lady Eagles, and an intact roster, the Lady Bulldogs indeed loom as the team to watch in UAAP Season 79.
“One thing that makes this team click is that they work as a team, they don’t rely on individual talent. In any competition, teamwork is key,” said NU assistant coach Edjet Mabbayad after steering his wards to a 19-25, 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 15-4 decision over the Lady Eagles to complete a Finals sweep at the Philsports Arena in Pasig late Wednesday night.
The talented Lady Bulldogs composed of Santiago, Aiko Urdas, Jorelle Singh, Jasmine Nabor, Risa Sato, Gayle Rose Valdez, Roma Joy Doromal playing as one cohesive unit, NU proved better than Ateneo particularly in the pressure-packed finale. They rallied from match points to win the series opener and then dominated the fifth set in Game Two.
Sure, they swept the Lady Eagles without their former star but the Lady Bulldogs beat their rivals with Alyssa Valdez at the helm last year. Besides, the back-to-back champions also played sans their former aces, including Myla Pablo and guest players Dindin Manabat and Rubie de Leon.
Mabbayad actually used an 11-player rotation throughout their campaign as Pablo, who led the team to last year’s title run, Ivy Perez and Rica Diolan either graduated or was not included in this year’s roster.
“We played with only 11 players and we will play with the same 11 in the UAAP,” said Mabbayad.
But the 6-5 Santiago imposed her will all tournament long, eventually snaring her first MVP of the conference trophy along the way. Singh played true to form and Nabor and Fil-Japanese rookie Sato provided the team a big boost with their gutsy plays, including dumps (Nabor) and blocking (Sato).
Nabor, an outside spiker in her high school days, also proved to be a big revelation, proving her coach her true worth after she was converted into a setter, a role she played to the hilt. The young talent capped her strong performance by dishing out 46 excellent sets and unloading 14 hits to nail the Finals MVP award.
“I just want to give back the faith and trust the coaching staff gave me to become a setter,” said Nabor.
With La Salle now without some of its aces, who have graduated after steering the Lady Spikers past the Lady Eagles in the last UAAP title clash, a solid National U side will be aiming not just a Final Four seat but a crack at the coveted championship.