Just a point away from winning the match – a whopping 14-10 lead in the 5th set – the Lady Maroons surprisingly folded as the Lady Bulldogs rallied and stole the match to earn just their second win in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament.
“What happened [against NU], it's hard to describe,” said Okumu. “We had the 4th set, we also had the 5th set. But, it just didn't happen, we just lost it.”
After shocking defending champion La Salle, the Lady Maroons absorbed back-to-back losses against Ateneo and NU. And the squad quickly got hit by the consequences.
From enjoying a share of the top spot, the Lady Maroons crashed to 5th place at 3-3 behind solo leader Ateneo (5-1) and joint second-placers La Salle, Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas (4-2).
“[It] was one of those days. We said the same on Sunday, when we played against Ateneo. We said the same when we played against UST. The results are not good, and it's putting our team in a very, very tight situation.”
Expectations are high for the Lady Maroons after a stellar preseason where they emerged as the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Collegiate Grand Slam and Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Collegiate Conference champions.
“We are no longer a team in progress, we're a team that is strong, a team that is a power to reckon with,” said Okumu. “But things did not go as per our plan.”
He added: “The idea that we won one championship without Isa (Molde), and we won another championship without Tots (Carlos), bringing them together should be the best thing that can ever happen to a team like our team, like my team. Yeah, but it seems that like we are still struggling.”
The recent failures, he admitted, have left the Lady Maroons baffled.
“The girls, they are talking to each other. We let them discuss, talk to one another, and meditate over what happened,” said Okumu. “They’re not taking it lightly. It's really a heartbreaking moment, it's hard for them as well. As much as a coach, I would like to shout, but it doesn't matter whether you shout or speak slowly or whatever you do, people will still listen, people will still hear you.”
But Okumu continues to trust his squad.
“We just asked them to be strong, to have heart. That's the most important thing. Because there's nothing different. It's the same volleyball,” he said.
As UP heads into its final game in the first round, there’s no doubt the Lady Maroons will try to shrug off their recent struggles versus another gutsy squad in the Adamson Lady Falcons.
“As I said before, winning a championship is not easy,” said Okumu. “Sometimes you lose in order for you to win. So, we are still gonna bounce back, we're gonna fight back.” – Leigh Nald Cabildo/Rappler.com