La Salle’s unsung heroes hailed as Lady Spikers flex depth in UAAP title win
MANILA, Philippines — La Salle assistant coach Noel Orcullo believes the depth of the Lady Spikers’ roster served as their biggest edge in getting back at National University and reclaiming the UAAP women’s volleyball championship for the first time in five years.
Unsung heroes rose to the occasion to lift up the Lady Spikers from two sets down as starting opposite spiker Shevana Laput, Fifi Sharma, and other bench players stepped up to complete their Finals series sweep of the Lady Bulldogs, 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-10, in Game 2 on Sunday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Laput, who became a starter in her first year after Leila Cruz suffered a season-ending ACL injury, was an x-factor in closing out the series as she nailed five blocks to finish with 12 points in her first finals appearance, while Sharma also provided the energy to spark La Salle through her ecstatic in-game celebrations and contributed with 11 points.
Seldom-used Maicah Larroza pulled off a surprise with four points in the last three sets, while Alleiah Malaluan, who had reduced playing time this season due to a knee injury prior to the season, was also instrumental with three points including the spike that put La Salle at match point, 14-10, before Thea Gagate’s championship-clinching quick attack.
“That’s what we expect from them whenever we field them in. For example, they didn’t expect Maicah Larroza but she delivered. It’s because all of us coaches trust each player. We all know that they are ready to perform,” said Orcullo in Filipino.
La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus, who is now a 12-time UAAP champion, missed the whole first round due to an undisclosed personal matter and left the responsibility to Orcullo on an interim basis.
The longtime deputy delivered as the Lady Spikers won their first seven games before De Jesus returned in their first game of the second round.
Orcullo attributed his successful stint to De Jesus and his players for making his job easier.
“I’m really grateful because coach Ramil missed the first round. So I sat as their interim coach. I’m glad that I made it because at first I had self-doubts upon receiving this task but coach said I can do it,” he said in Filipino. “At least my players trusted me because they always respond whenever I give them instructions.”
Orcullo won his eighth championship out of the school’s 12 crowns and a successful redemption tour against NU makes it sweeter.
“Last season, they really dominated the tournament because of their familiarity, while we didn’t have enough preparation. We had more time to prepare this season that’s why we were able to reach that level,” he said. “The players also promised us coaches that they will bounce back in Season 85.”
“And we got it through hard work and sacrifice. Most of them were far away from their families. It was fulfilling and we’re thankful because the Lord gave it to us,” he added.