Shackling an Angel: The National U battlecry in Finals
For someone spearheading defending champion National University (NU) and who also doubles as the reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Bella Belen reached for pronouncements that usually come from a challenger.
“It’s time for payback, [time] to show our school pride,” she said, referring to the start of the Lady Bulldogs’ UAAP women’s volleyball tournament repeat bid against La Salle Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum. “It’s time to show the UAAP community that we want to win.”
It was easy to understand why she talked that way.
Untouched all of last season and looking formidable this year until the Lady Spikers dealt them two straight, straight-set bamboozlings, the Lady Bulldogs will be facing a very different La Salle side that they swept in the championship playoffs in Season 84.
Different in the sense that a super rookie in Angel Canino has changed the entire dynamics of the Lady Spikers.
“We’ve battled her before and the result was not pretty for us,” Belen said, referring to clashes in high school where Canino led a La Salle-Zobel crew that denied Nazareth School of a five-peat in 2018.
Game 1 gets going at 4 p.m. with NU having two full days to polish its game before it locks horns with La Salle, which is expected to come in with the same game.
The Lady Spikers don’t need to fix anything that ain’t broke, anyway.
“Our striking has not been that great. And I think we still have a lot to improve on when the Finals [come],” said Belen.
Striking has been Canino’s biggest weapon, and defense the Lady Spikers’ trump card as they lost just one game thus far and are looking every inch as the favorites in the best-of-three series.
Alyssa Solomon, who was with Belen in high school when Canino denied them of a five-peat, offered an even more interesting approach.
“Maybe we can learn from how they have been handling themselves,” she said of the Lady Archers. “Their confidence, their heart. And how they handle errors.”
“Our response will start at training,” Solomon said. “We’re going to be ready and we are going to apply all of [our preparations].”
Canino was showered with chants of “MVP, MVP” when she was putting the finishing touches on a victory over University of Santo Tomas in the Final Four. She made it clear that she wasn’t after that trophy, with the championship more important to her and the team.
“We still have finals to play,” Canino said in Filipino after a four-set win over Eya Laure and the Tigresses. An MVP would also duplicate a Belen first last season when the National U star became the league’s first Rookie-MVP.