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Lady Cards end NCAA 98 journey as fourth seed

Article and photo by: Kristin Clarisse H. Mateo

Continuing their campaign in the stepladder semis as part of the Final Four picture, the Mapúa Lady Cardinals were keen on avenging their opening day loss against the hungry Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Lady Pirates, but came up short in a four-set heartstopper, 18-25, 23-25, 31-29, 25-27, to end their flight in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 98 on the fourth spot last March 26, at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.
Starting the engine for the Lady Cards, Middle Blocker Alyanna Nicole Ong claimed the first point of the do-or-die match but was quickly countered by the opposing team, 1-4. Both squads then fell under a spell of consecutive errors, handing out points in the succeeding plays. As the other Intramuros-based squad pulled away with a 10-point lead, the red and yellow jerseys had to overcome their opening set jitters to catch up with their foes by unleashing powerful strikes from Middle Blocker Therese Angeli Manalo, Opposite Hitter Gregchelle Grace Cabadin, and Outside Hitter Roxie Dela Cruz. Despite reducing the gap, the Lady Cards struggled to minimize their errors in the first set, 18-25.

Getting its groove in the following frame, the home team ignited a tug-of-war match to keep the Lady Pirates within reach but suffered from a string of errors once again. Cabadin then ended her team’s drought to put up a point for the Lady Cards, 11-15. Opposite Hitter Hannah De Guzman’s convincing stride and Setter Trixie Mae Gojol’s service ace dragged the gray and maroon jerseys to a tie, 23-23. Despite a late surge by the red and yellow jerseys, the set still ended in favor of the other squad, 23-25.

With the opponents only a set away from winning the clash, the Lady Cards had to balance their offensive and defensive play as well as avoid errors in the succeeding set. Finally taking the upper hand in the match, the red and gold squad earned a point advantage coming off from an error by the Lady Pirates, 13-12. After another push-and-pull gameplay, Super Rookie Dela Cruz fired in an attack to claim the set point, 24-23, but was followed by an attack error to begin a heart-stopping race for a victory. Refusing to be swept away by their rivals, the Lady Cards claimed the cardiac third set to extend the match by marking a cross-court hit from Middle Blocker Babs Babiera and capitalizing on the other team’s errors, 31-29.

Aiming for a come-from-behind win, the Lady Cards improved their floor defenses in the fourth set, but the same spell of unforced errors held a tight grip on both squads. As the Lady Pirates were only two points away from dominating the game, the Mapúa volleyers went on a run led by Dela Cruz and De Guzman to settle for a point deficit, 22-23. A powerful attack from LPU’s Joan Doguna gave her team the set point but was quickly countered by back-to-back attack errors, 24-24. Bouncing back from a service error by the home team, Manalo stepped in for another powerful strike to level the playing field again, 25-25. Despite stretching the set, the home team failed to force a five-set classic as it stumbled to squeak past the Lady Pirates, 25-27.

Rookie sensation Dela Cruz had another outstanding performance similar to their elimination round encounter, pacing the team with 20 markers, followed by Manalo with 15 points. Meanwhile, LPU’s Doguna led her squad with 22 points. Johna Denise Dolorito, Zonxi Jane Dahab, and Janeth Tulang pitched in 14, 13, and 10 points, respectively.

After the Battle of Intramuros, the Mapúa Lady Cardinals settled for the fourth spot while the LPU Lady Pirates headed to the next round of the stepladder semis wherein they sank the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Lady Altas to proceed to the finals against the defending champions De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers starting April 11.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Lady Cards’ NCAA Season 98 journey is among the best-recorded finishes in the league. They ended their campaign last Season 97 in fifth place while they looked to climb above the ladder, ranking from 6 to 10, since Season 82.

In an interview with the outgoing Team Captain Ayena Gwen Espiritu, she shared that their mindset throughout the elimination round was to take it “step by step, one at a time” and focus on every opposing team that they had to face. She added that their defeat against the Intramuros neighbor will be the Lady Cards’ motivation, especially in the next season.

The Team Captain, who is among the graduating students of the team alongside Outside Hitters Chenie Batac and Sunshine Dalida, and Libero Janina Dimple Sy, also reiterated her advice to the remaining Mapúa volleyers who will continue their fight next season.

Never forget why you started. Never forget din na one team, one goal tayo palagi. Kaya make [it] memorable and enjoy every moment, may it be inside or outside the court. Kasi ‘yung solid bonding and willingness ‘yung key to win,” Espiritu imparted.

While they are still in the hunt for a championship title in the NCAA, the Mapúa Lady Cardinals will make it their mission to soar to greater heights next season, taking it one step at a time.

The Scores:
MU – Dela Cruz 20, Manalo 15, Babiera 6, Cabadin 6, De Guzman 6, Ong 5, Gojol 3, Batac 0, Espiritu 0, Vergino 0, Macatangay 0, Dalida 0, Basbas (L), Sy (L)
LPU – Doguna 22, Dolorito 14, Dahab 13, Tulang 10, Maligmat 5, Puzon 2, Sta. Maria 0, Topacio 0, Galedo 0, Perez 0, Daya 0, Manacap 0, Lopez (L), Rivaas (L)
Set Scores: 18-25, 23-25, 31-29, 25-27
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