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Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2018 - 12:00am

La Salle feeds on culture of volley-excellence

MANILA, Philippines — La Salle has fully embraced a winning culture that shooting for excellence year in and year out never gets tiring.

By latest count, the Lady Spikers possess 11 UAAP jewels in the last 20 years, achieving a “three-peat” for the third time during the recent Season 80 hostilities.

Hindi ko na talaga binibilang yun, basta ako, pagdating ng season, prepare, kung may opportunity na dumating sa amin, talagang hindi na namin papalagpasin (I don’t actually count them. For me it’s just a matter of preparing for the tournament and when the opportunity presents itself, we go for it),” coach Ramil de Jesus, architect of DLSU’s emergence as a superpower, told STARweek.

La Salle offset the graduation of celebrated setter and influential captain Kim Fajardo in ruling a tournament highlighted by unpredictability.

The Lady Spikers themselves got hit by the upset axe twice early on in the elims, losing to National U and then, for the first time in 10 seasons, falling to Adamson, a squad that didn’t even reach the Final Four. 

Those stinging setbacks, which prompted de Jesus to describe his charges’ performance as “pang-barangay,” only served to wake up the dragons in the Taft-based belles. With seniors Kim Kianna Dy, Mary Joy Baron and Dawn Macandili providing leadership, the Lady Spikers unleashed a searing 11-win windup topped off by a pair of straight-set victories over a new Finals challenger in tough Far Eastern University.

Noong start ng season, sabi ko hindi pa ready yung team and then sabi ko sa mga bata sanay naman tayo mag-start ng hindi ready, eventually maayos din yan, nakita natin ang problema and every practice sabi ko kailangan all-out (We weren’t really ready at the start of the season but I told them that’s nothing new to us, along the way, we’ll fix the problems, just go all-out even in practice),” he said.

De Jesus, who picked up his 260th career victory in 19 years as La Salle coach with the Game Two clincher, is showing a different side of himself to the public. Known to be very strict and businesslike, De Jesus has loosened up, even exchanging banter with Dy, Baron and Macandili during the post-match press conference.

As he entered the Big Dome media room, one of the girls asked how he was feeling now that the three of them had played their last game and a playful de Jesus replied: “Tuwang tuwa ako dahil wala na kayo (I’m so happy you’ll be gone).” 

Amid laughter and funny faces from the troika, he quickly added, “Hindi, joke lang iyon.”

Hit by two early losses, the La Salle Lady Spikers led by coach Ramil de Jesus (left) dig deep into their champions’ heart to surge to a three-peat against the Far Eastern U Lady Tams.

De Jesus was thankful for the trio’s leadership in a campaign where they had to overcome what he described as a shaky start.

“Thankful ako sa kanila. Hindi ko sinasabi sa kanila kung ano ang naitulong nila sa team, ang sinasabi ko lang ay kung ano’ng nakikita kong problema so it’s about time sabihin ko sa kanila na eto, natutuwa ako kasi na-guide nila nang maayos, nadala nila sa finals. Ito ang ipamamana nila sa mga bata sa kanila (I don’t tell them what they’ve given to the team, I just tell them the problems, so it’s about time I let them know I’m happy with how they guided the team, led them to the finals. This is what they’re leaving with the younger ones). I’m very proud of them.”

Coming from a man who rarely heaps praises on his players, expressing this on national TV meant a lot.

He gave praise to the hard work of the trio, whom he patiently molded into gems. 

Sa totoo lang, nung nakita ko sila Kianna at Majoy, height lang ang nakita ko and si Dawn halos hindi ko pinapansin. Alam ko sasakit ang ulo ko sa pagtuturo dahil bihira yung dumadating sa akin na player na very talented. Hard work iyun kaya umangat ang level nila (To be honest, I only saw height in Dy and Baron, and Dawn hardly caught my attention. I knew I’d have a tough time teaching them. They worked hard, that was key to getting to where they’re at now),” said de Jesus.

Baron was the league’s MVP last year and Dy, its finals MVP back then. Macandili took the top individual award in the 2018 championship series.

Happiness is a three-peat as members and officials of the De La Salle Lady Spikers celebrate their victory.

Sobrang thankful namin na binigyan kami ng chance to show our potential. He was very patient with us. Coming into La Salle, alam namin maraming magagaling so mahihirapan kami (we knew it would be difficult considering the deep talent pool). If we really work hard, matutuwa si coach sa iyo (coach will appreciate what you’re doing), he’ll give you attention and it’s up to you to step up,” said Dy.

Hindi siya yung mapuri na coach so kami, natutunan namin sa kanya lagi dapat mag-improve and wag mag-settle kung anong meron ka. Yun ang naging key kaya narating namin kung ano kami ngayon (He’s not the type who praises you so it kept us on our toes, seeking to improve all the time and not being contented with what we’ve got. I think that helped us get to where we are),” said Baron.

And it’s not just on the court.

Para siyang father namin (He’s like a father to us),” said Dy.

Dinevelop din nila coach yung character namin na kahit down kami ng two sets, kahit anong obstacles pa ang ibigay sa amin, yung character namin hindi mawawala, lalaban at lalaban kami (Coach helped us develop character, not giving up no matter what obstacles they put in front of us, we’ll always keep fighting),” said Macandili.

La Salle faced a different challenger than the one it was used to the previous six years. The Lady Tams had averted a blue-green championship duel after nosing out Ateneo in the Final Four and proved to be as tough an opponent for the La Sallians.

Hindi madaling kalaban ang FEU, alam natin ang strength nila. Siguro first time lumaban sa finals, yun siguro ang naging factor (FEU is not an easy opponent, we know their strength. Their inexperience in the finals probably was a factor),” said De Jesus.

Not one to forget his roots, FEU alumnus and former champion player De Jesus always sings along every time the FEU hymn is played.

A truly class act from a real winner.

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