From a distance, St. Benilde’s hot start may be attributed its tough-as-nails rookies and a tried and tested system.
But for team captain Jewel Lai, the secret is their undeniable chemistry which, she says, extends even off the playing court.
“We eat together, we enjoy hanging out together,” Lai said in Filipino. “As much as possible, we don’t want anybody in the team to feel left out.”
That bond was put to the test once again on Thursday against gritty San Beda, which staged a stunning opening-set ambush before St. Benilde gathered itself together for a 17-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-22 victory.
It was the sixth win in as many games for the Lady Blazers, who remain the only unbeaten squad in the 95th NCAA women’s volleyball.
“We are happy that we are still unbeaten. Every team we faced so far are tough, but we thought we are level with San Beda,” Lai added.
Rookie Gayle Pascual exploded with 20 points for St. Benilde, the Season 91 champion. Diane Ventura and Chelsea Umali added 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Later, Jose Rizal broke a four-game losing streak by beating Emilio Aguinaldo, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19. The Lady Bombers upped their card to 2-4, while the Lady Generals fell to 0-5.
The Lady Blazers, who dealt the Lady Red Spikers their second consecutive defeat for 3-2, are trying to erase the stigma of last season when they blew No. 1 ranking after losing to the Perpetual Help Lady Altas in the Final Four.
Two wins away from the semifinals, St. Benilde is now pulling all the stops to make it all the way as coach Jerry Yee continued to avoid postgame interviews.
When spotted by sportswriters right after the game, Yee pointed to his players descending to the locker room. “You may talk to them,” he said.
Lai said she doesn’t have a superstitious belief like her coach, who mentored her when they were both in the University of the Philippines.
“We just work very hard, we don’t take a rest, we take an active rest. That means during our rest day we still have to go the gym and lift weights.”