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Lady Cards secure Final Four slot, head to stepladder semis

Article by: Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin and Alyanna Ysabelle A. Faustino
Photo by: Kristin Clarisse H. Mateo

Championing the theme “Achieve Greatness Every Day,” the Mapúa Lady Cardinals took flight to finish the elimination round with a 6-3 win-loss record and booked a seat in the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 98 Women’s Volleyball Tournament, with matches from February 21 to March 19, at the San Andres Sports Complex in Manila.
In an interview with Lady Cards Team Captain and Setter Ayena Gwen Espiritu about their Philippine University Volleyball League (PUVL) journey last February as they brought home the championship title in the tournament, she shared that her team would strive to reach the Final Four in NCAA Season 98. Built with tenacity, the team has turned its dreams into reality.

After their journey was cut short as they ended up in the fifth spot last season, Mapúa University’s Women’s Volleyball Team joined two pre-season leagues, namely the Shakey’s Super League and PUVL, which helped solidify the team’s connection with the rookies.

In the most recent interview with the Team Captain last March 21, she shared that the strong bond served as a catapult for them this season.

“Na-overcome namin 'yung pagiging hiwa-hiwalay namin and naging buo and ngayon eto yung results sa NCAA, which is nakapasok sa Final Four and hopefully mas umangat kami na mas buo kami,” Espiritu added.

At the start of the current season, the Lady Cards faltered against the Lyceum of the Philippines University Lady Pirates, but the team made quick work to join the winning column with a hot streak stretching to four after handing losses to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Lady Knights, San Sebastian College-Recoletos Lady Stags, Jose Rizal University Lady Bombers, and NCAA Season 97 first runner-up, the Arellano University Lady Chiefs.

In their sixth match, the Lady Cards faced a challenge in the form of the undefeated De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Lady Blazers. Down by two sets, they unleashed consecutive attacks to power through the third set, 26-24. Rattling the opponents’ defense, the Mapúa volleyers forced a deciding set as they refused to be swept by the defending champions but fell short by two points, 13-15.

Bouncing back from this tall order, the red and yellow jerseys took command of the Emilio Aguinaldo College Lady Generals in a four-set showdown, followed by their first sweep of the season against the San Beda University Lady Red Spikers – a much-needed victory to boost their Final Four bid.

Facing their last challenge in the elimination round, the Lady Cards battled against the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA (UPHSD) Lady Altas, the same troop that swept the PUVL until the semis but bowed to the red and yellow jerseys in their do-or-die finals encounter. Despite putting up a good fight to reassert their mastery over their rivals, the Lady Cards fell to the hungry Lady Altas and endured their third loss. Nonetheless, the home team proved to be a powerhouse, tallying a total of five five-set thrillers, two four-set marathons, and two three-setters.

Reaching the Final Four, Espiritu expressed gratitude to those who have shown support to the squad since the beginning. Now, as a graduating player, she hopes that her team will always remember the root of their passion. “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,” the Team Captain imparted.

After recording a 6-3 win-loss slate, the Lady Cards’ campaign continues as they will head over to the semifinals after the AU Lady Chiefs, who ended their campaign with a 5-4 win-loss standing, were knocked out of the Final Four contention following their crucial defeat in the hands of the CSJL Lady Knights last March 18.

Out of the six games won, Middle Blocker Therese Angeli Manalo and Opposite Hitter (OH) Gregchelle Grace Cabadin led their team after securing two Best Player of the Game titles each. Meanwhile, Rookies Roxie Dela Cruz and OH Hannah De Guzman also secured the same title.

Middle Blocker Alyanna Nicole Ong, who was recognized as last season’s Second Best Middle Blocker, was acknowledged as the third best blocker after 24 kill blocks, while Outside Hitter Dela Cruz placed third in the service department following 21 service aces as of March 18.

With her steady presence in all zones of the court, Dela Cruz is in the running for the Rookie of the Year award, as she is currently standing as the fifth best scorer with 132 points, built on 110 spikes, a block, and 21 service aces, in the most recent statistics released by the league. Joining the Super Rookie in the Top 50 Best Scorers are Ong (102 pts), Manalo (86 pts), De Guzman (70 pts), Middle Blocker Babs Babiera (52 pts), and Cabadin (50 pts).

After a rollercoaster ride in the elimination round, the Mapúa Lady Cardinals will strive to outplay another Intramuros-based squad, the LPU Lady Pirates, in a stepladder semis battle on March 26, Sunday, at 2:00 PM, at the Filoil EcoOil Centre, to soar higher in the rankings and go up against the second seed UPHSD Lady Altas. Meanwhile, awaiting their foes, top contender CSB Lady Blazers has secured a finals berth to defend their crown.

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