MANILA, Philippines -- The rookies of National University (NU) wrapped up their solid freshman campaign by putting on another fine performance against University of Santo Tomas (UST) in their last game of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
Sisi Rondina and the Golden Tigresses secured the victory in four sets, 27-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-16, but the NU freshmen gave a good account of themselves -- just as they have done throughout the season.
Ivy Lacsina had a team-high 19 points on 16 kills and 2 aces, while Princess Robles added 14 markers, all on attacks, while also contributing 15 digs and 15 receptions. Rookie libero Jennifer Nierva was solid as usual, putting up 23 digs and 22 receptions in the nearly two-hour game.
"Happy naman po," said Nierva after the game, when it was official that NU had finished the season with a 4-10 win-loss record. "Although hindi kami nakapag-Final 4, 'yung capabilities ng bawat isa, nailabas namin."
"Sa amin, winner na kami noong na-gain namin 'yung respect ng mga nanonood sa amin," she added.
"Natapos 'yung UAAP namin na masaya kami," said Robles, for her part. "Hindi kami nagkawatak-watak kahit anong dumating na struggle sa team namin, and nalabas po namin kung anong meron kami."
Robles finished with a total of 190 points in her rookie year, while Lacsina had 178 points. Nierva, for her part, ended the season by averaging 5.96 digs per set while tallying a 50.62% efficiency in receiving.
Missing the Final 4 is a foreign feeling to these rookies. All of them -- including injured setter Joyme Cagande -- were part of NU's superb girls' volleyball team, which ruled the high school tournament for four straight years.
Admittedly, there was some frustration for the freshmen, particularly midway through the year when the Lady Bulldogs endured a rough stretch.
Somewhere down the line, however, they learned to accept the reality of their situation. The Lady Bulldogs were always aware that they would struggle in Season 81, even before Cagande -- their starting setter -- went down with a knee injury in their very first game. They were playing for a new coach in Norman Miguel, had lost ace middle blocker Risa Sato to academic deficiencies shortly before the season started, and rookies outnumbered the veterans in their line-up.
"Hindi sa frustrated kasi natapos na kami doon, natapos na ako doon. Natanggap ko na high school is really different from college kasi sobrang taas ng standard dito," Nierva explained. "And makikita mo na every game, talagang ayaw nilang magpatalo unlike sa high school eh."
"And itong first year ko, I learned a lot. Nakita ko na sobrang hindi pa pala ako magaling, and hindi ka pala pwedeng mag-settle anything less," she added. "So kailangan every point pinaghihirapan sa college. Kailangan ng maturity, kailangan naba-balance mo yung emotions mo na not too excited, pero hindi naman complacent ka."
The rookies also know that they have time. Lacsina pointed out that even their famed high school squad didn't start as a powerhouse immediately -- they had to work their way up from the bottom.
"Siyempre, bago naman po nag-champion 'yung team noong high school, natalo din po sila eh. Napunta din po sila sa baba hanggang sa trinabaho nila," said Lacsina.
"So sa amin po, siyempre next season naman po, step by step po," she added.
"Sabi nga ni Ivy, galing din kami sa baba," agreed Robles. "So step by step lang kami."
The good news is that the NU youngsters can take these next steps together, much as they did in their high school years. This is something that Miguel reminds his rookies as they progressed through their first season in the seniors division.
"Yung four years na nag-champion sila, they've been so magical. Pero na-record na 'yun sa storybook eh," said Miguel, who is also in his first year as head coach of NU. "So this time, magke-create ulit ng bagong magic, di ba? Para sa college team naman namin, so 'yun ang goal namin."
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