MANILA — After a tough four-game stretch to start the second round of eliminations in UAAP Season 79, and with the momentum clearly on their side, acting head coach Sherwin Meneses of the Ateneo Lady Eagles allowed their bench players to play a significant amount of time in the match.
Despite the limited playing time these players had in the tournament prior to the duel against the Adamson Lady Falcons, they certainly did not disappoint when their jersey numbers were called.
“Everyone had the chance to play kanina. Everyone had the chance to step up,” said team captain Jia Morado.
First off the bench was rookie Jules Samonte. The De La Salle-Zobel standout, who played the middle blocker position in high school, embraced her new role at the wing with ease. In her longest court exposure so far in the season, she tallied six points.
“Si Jules kasi matapang yan eh,” revealed Morado. “She just doesn’t get as much playing time as she wants, but we know that whenever she steps on the court, sobrang tapang niya mag-laro.”
Converted libero Deanna Wong also showed progress in her new role as the sophomore shared the defensive ace duties with veteran Gizelle Tan in the first and second set. She then played the position by her lonesome in the third set. Wong recorded six excellent digs in her stint.
Yet no one stood out the most than Kim Gequillana. Known as Ateneo’s resident service specialist, Gequillana made a living at the service deck as the floor defense of the Lady Falcons went in total disarray in the third set. In a long stretch that gave Ateneo a commanding 16-0 lead in the final frame, the Bacolod-native banked in four service aces. She also made a game-high 11 points.
“We’re really proud of Kim. Sobrang quality ng minutes niya,” admitted Morado of her batchmate. “She plays her best every game naman eh.”
Gequillana was also thankful of the opportunity. “Minsan lang naman ako binibigyan ng playing time sa front row. I guess I really wanted to maximize that opportunity by showing what I do best and showing what I trained for. Doon talaga yung motivation ko,” she shared.
In a light moment where she was asked about her newly acquired monicker ‘The Closer,’ Gequillana answered, “Flattered ako na ganun yung tawag sa akin. Pero para sa akin, it’s still a team effort.”
It was a team effort, indeed. In the three-set victory against Adamson, Ateneo saw 10 of their 14 players log numbers in the scoreboard.
Meneses explained the logic behind his decision.
“Para magkaroon din sila ng kumpyansa pag pinasok sila sa mag crucial (situations),” he said. “So siguro sa mga next games, magamit sila. Napakahaba ng liga talaga, so kailangan mo rin ng mga reserve players.”
Yet despite the rare feat, the team is now focused on their next game against the UE Lady Warriors on Sunday, April 2, as they gun for the twice-to-beat-advantage in the Final Four.