UAAP Volleyball Final Four: Mini Miss UST Meets La Salle’s Taft Towers Again

Familiar foes UST and La Salle will face off in the UAAP volleyball Final Four again. Who will be the heartbreaker this time around?

And just like that, it’s another UST-La Salle matchup in the UAAP women’s volleyball Final Four. This time around, the Tigresses hold a twice-to-beat advantage after beating the defending champs last April 27. 

With a 12-2 record, UST enters the Season 86 UAAP volleyball Final Four as the second seed, while La Salle fell to third with an 11-3 slate as a result of their second-round loss to the Tigresses.

At a glance, this matchup is a battle of opposites. Dubbed the Mini Misses, UST has one of the smaller UAAP Season 86 rosters, while La Salle has the tallest players thanks to Ramil De Jesus’ height preference. 

UST is also more of an offensive team, while La Salle relies on trademark net defense.

Ahead of their Final Four game, let’s take a look at the latest chapter of the UST-La Salle matchup.

Season 86 eliminations journey
UAAP Volleyball final four USTe
(Photo Credit: UAAP Season 86 Media Team)

UST: Out of nowhere, the young Tigresses saw themselves sweep the first round of UAAP Season 86 volleyball. Lapses aside, part of that 7-0 sweep was a straight-set win over Season 85 runners-up NU Lady Bulldogs, and a five-setter over defending champs La Salle.

UST’s record was eventually blemished in the second round following a four-set loss to the NU Lady Bulldogs, who shut down the Tigresses throughout the contest. 

While UST was able to recover, they eventually dropped a five-setter against the FEU Lady Tamaraws despite holding a 2-1 set advantage. Fortunately, the Tigresses were able to regroup through a sweep of the UE Lady Warriors. 

And last April 27, the Tigresses came alive to beat the La Salle Lady Spikers in four sets, clinching the last twice-to-beat advantage, and spoiling the return of Angel Canino from her arm injury. 

UAAP Volleyball final four La Salle
(Photo Credit: UAAP Season 86 Media Team)

La Salle: Save for their UST loss, and five-setter against NU, La Salle was flat out dominant to begin their UAAP Season 86 campaign until Canino’s Holy Week injury. 

Consequently, the Lady Spikers were shaky for most of the second round, being pushed to the limit by also-rans UP Lady Maroons and UE Lady Warriors. UE in particular, forced a five-setter against the defending champs. 

La Salle then proceeded to lose to NU in four sets, before regrouping to sweep Ateneo. Come the UST matchup (and Canino’s return), unforced errors and an on-fire UST squad led to their third-seed finish. 

Team strengths

UST:  UST’s success can be attributed to their high-energy offense, being the best serving team for the season, while only trailing NU in terms of spiking and setting.

The Tigresses’ offense is led by super rookie Angge Poyos, lefties Jonna Perdido and Reg Jurado, while setter Cassie Carballo handles playmaking duties. Due to Carballo’s expertise, just about anyone may have a play designed within the Tigresses’ offense.

However, pressure should be on the lefties to come alive in the Final Four and shoulder the scoring load alongside Poyos. After all, the pair has proven to be reliable second options throughout eliminations, and have led the Tigresses once when Poyos was sidelined by dehydration.

In terms of serving, Poyos, Carballo, and Jurado are among the best for UAAP Season 86. By the Final Four, hopefully they and other Tigresses like Xyza Gula can work their magic again at the service line. 

UST also has much better floor defense compared to La Salle, being top five in digs, and top three in receptions. Leading here is captain and libero Detdet Pepito, who averaged league-highs of 4.20 digs per set, and a 55.45 percent efficiency in receptions.

For the Final Four, UST should build on their April 27 game plan against the Lady Spikers. That time, it was clear that quick sets and quality services disrupted the Lady Spikers, alongside exposing their streaky floor defense.

However, the Tigresses should also prepare for La Salle’s bounce back defensively. In their last matchup, UST managed to poke holes against La Salle’s net defense, which is uncharacteristic for the defending champs.

UAAP Volleyball final four La Salle
(Photo Credit: UAAP Season 86 Media Team)

La Salle: At their peak, La Salle is a defensive juggernaut, being the best blocking team for Season 86 with 136 kill blocks, or an average of 2.62 blocks per set. This season, that defense is led by two-time best middle blocker Thea Gagate and opposite hitter Shevana Laput. 

Both were among Season 86’s top five blockers, with Gagate having a league-high 40 rejections, or 0.77 blocks per set, while Laput placed fifth with 26 kill blocks, an average of 0.50 per set. 

Offensively, La Salle isn’t too bad either, with the trio of Laput, Gagate, and a returning Canino providing the firepower. Statistically, they only trail NU and the Tigresses in terms of spiking, setting, and serving. 

For the playoffs, La Salle should focus on resolving their blocking. As mentioned, this is the Lady Spikers’ biggest strength, yet the Tigresses managed to penetrate through that in their last matchup. 

While UST’s pace could have been the key, it’s up for the Lady Spikers to regroup. If we’ll go back to the Tigresses’ loss to NU in March, or even the first UST-La Salle game this season, a block party remains feasible for the defending champs.

While the Tigresses’ pace could be a factor for that, it’s now up to the Lady Spikers to regroup. As seen in the Tigresses’ loss to NU last March, or even their first-round meeting, a block party still remains feasible for the Lady Spikers. 

Offensively, La Salle should consider exploiting UST’s weaker middle blocking. All the more now that their go-to options Laput, Canino, and even Gagate are back in the mix. Heck, even Amie Provido may also provide some firepower for the defending champs. 

Way-too-early prediction 

Based on what we’ve seen, the UST system could actually be perfect in exploiting La Salle’s weaknesses, and bypass their strengths. Even with La Salle’s off game last April 27, it’s fair to argue that UST might be the “anti-La Salle team” with Kung Fu Reyes’ system. 

For now, we’ll place our bets on the Tigresses winning this UAAP volleyball Final Four matchup in five sets. While it’s hard to discount La Salle’s championship experience, it’s reasonable to think that the Mini Misses’ system can indeed to topple the Taft Towers after all.

Banner Image courtesy of the UAAP Season 86 Media Team.

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