Favoring Japan-style game, Okumu helps Lady Maroons discover inner strength
When he took over as University of the Philippines head coach, Godfrey Okumu only wanted to implement what he described as Japanese-style volleyball: fast-paced, systematic and not overly reliant on size.
What the Lady Maroons learned in the process was another trait the Japanese are known for: zen-like demeanor.
Calm and composed in the midst of storm, UP captured its first ever title on Wednesday night, beating heavy favorite Far Eastern University in a topsy-turvy title series, 2-0.
“When I was serving, I didn’t feel nervous at all,” said setter Ayel Estrañero in Filipino. “I felt that every one of us inside the court believe that we can win despite the long comeback we mounted.”
She was referring to her serve at championship point which catapulted the Lady Maroons’ rally from 6-12 in fifth set of Game 2, where they blew a two-sets-to-none cushion, and an 8-0 lead in the third.
With what happened in Game 1—where UP shed off its finals novice tag when it clawed back from two sets down to defeat FEU via five-setter—the Lady Maroons could have also easily succumbed to grinding pressure.
But UP remained steadfast.
“The pressure is there like the pressure we had today. But what do you do when you have pressure? We try to relax. We take it out and we don’t think about it so much,” Okumu said. “I told the players to embrace the moment.”
It was a double victory for UP as Isa Molde, the 19-year-old star from Catmon, Cebu, won both conference and finals MVP awards.
“I would like to dedicate these awards to my teammates; of course I can’t achieve this without their help,” added the 5-foot-7 open hitter.
Okumu, a Kenyan English teacher in Japan before he transitioned to coaching volleyball, said his players stayed mindful during the toughest moments of the finals.
“For us to be here today it took us time, months. We lost many games and by losing, we learn how to win and we learn how to play together. Instead of going apart when you lose, you learn. The losses brought us together. So that’s strength that kept us together,” added the mentor.
For that mind-set alone, the Lady Maroons, who haven’t won in the collegiate scene for 36 years, are a formidable force in the coming UAAP season.
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