UAAP Season 84 was full of uncertainties for De La Salle University.
After failing to enter the Finals for the first time in 11 years back in Season 81, the Lady Spikers were raring to bounce back.
However, Season 82 was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the women’s volleyball calendar just a week in before the suspension – and ultimately – cancellation of the tournament.
Veterans Aduke Ogunsanya and Tine Tiamzon decided to go pro in the Premier Volleyball League, while setter Michelle Cobb announced 10 days before Season 84 volleyball started that she will not suit up for La Salle anymore.
That left the Lady Spikers with zero finals experience – and many young guns raring to introduce themselves to the big stage.
But it was more challenging than usual with the pandemic still lingering around, teams needed to be in a bubble setup.
“Ang hirap ng bubble kasi nasa room ka lang, hindi mo nakikita ‘yung family mo.
“So kailangan maka-recover ka agad after a loss, ganoon siya [nakakaaffect] sa mental aspect ng isang atleta,” said Jolina Dela Cruz, one of the leaders of La Salle.
She, along with Thea Gagate, delivered their usual numbers for the Lady Spikers, but it was Alleiah Malaluan and Fifi Sharma who captured the hearts of La Salle fans.
The signature Lady Spikers swag is alive and well in Sharma, while the soft-spoken Malaluan let her play do the talking – emerging as the team’s leading scorer in the tournament.
Despite the lack of finals experience, the Lady Spikers still made it as the second-seeded squad after the elimination round, giving them a twice-to-beat edge in the stepladder semifinals.
Then La Salle breezed past archrival Ateneo de Manila University in straight sets to enter the Finals anew, four years in the making (of course, with COVID-19 eating up two years).
The Lady Spikers met the undefeated and history-seeking National University in the championship round.
The Lady Bulldogs completed the tournament sweep and annexed their first title in 65 years.
Nevertheless, for Sharma, the heart-wrenching defeat in the Finals is the start of something great and new for La Salle.
After all, the core of this Lady Spikers batch is intact and will still be together in Season 85.
“I think we have something na pinaghuhugutan next season kasi syempre, nandoon ‘yung will to bawi,” said second generation Lasallian Sharma, daughter of basketball player Carlo.
“Next season, we will really use this as motivation.”