Jolina dela Cruz has been the all-around driving force that the La Salle Lady Spikers needed to push them back firmly in title contention status following stunning back-to-back sweeps of defending UAAP women's volleyball champion National University.
As the stock of super rookie Angel Canino grew and grew, the veteran Dela Cruz was always just a step behind the spotlight, providing ample support in every single category that matters, whether on attacks, blocks, services, or floor defense.
In La Salle's first round sweep over the Lady Bulldogs last Wednesday, the fourth-year spiker tallied 11 points and 10 excellent digs, again exemplifying her support role as Canino topscored with 14.
Dela Cruz then proved her consistency to returning mentor Ramil de Jesus in the immediate rematch to kick off the second round on Saturday, chipping in 12 points with three blocks to go with nine excellent receptions.
For her consistent production matching her proven leadership for the unbeaten Lady Spikers, Dela Cruz earned the Collegiate Press Corps UAAP Player of the Week presented by the San Miguel Corporation and Philippine Sports Commission from March 22 to 25.
Following a vibrant discussion among print and online scribes covering the beat, Dela Cruz emerged as the unanimous choice ahead of previous winners Canino and Adamson's Trisha Tubu, La Salle's Mars Alba, Ateneo's Faith Nisperos, and FEU's Jov Fernandez.
Dela Cruz is also the first non-rookie this season after a historic stretch from Canino, Tubu, and UST's Josh Ybañez to win the weekly citation, which has MNL Kingpin, Tinapayan Festival, and Jockey as minor sponsors.
“Siguro, nakaka-boost siya ng confidence ng bawat isa, kasi nga sinasabi ni Coach Ramil na bihira mabigyan ng chance 'yung mga team na magkaroon ng 7-0 o 8-0 and ma-sweep yung first round,” Dela Cruz said.
“Gri-nab lang namin yung opportunity na 'yun para mas ma-boost 'yung kumpiyansa namin.”
It was an emotional stretch overall for a La Salle community already on cloud nine following the Lady Spikers' winning streak, culminating with a return for De Jesus who has not taken the court since the Season 84 finals due to personal reasons.
“'Di po namin ine-expect kasi kanina dumating siya, [pero] hindi po namin alam na magko-coach siya ngayon,” Dela Cruz continued. “'Nung nasa dugout siya kasama pa namin siya, binibiro-biro niya kami na hindi naman [siya magko-coach], doon lang sa likod.
“Pero pinilit namin siya, 'Weh, mag-coach ka na,' ganyan. Napilit naman namin siya. Thankful kami kay coach Ramil kasi yun nga, nilaban niya yung araw na 'to and para sa kanya din 'yung laban namin.”
With De Jesus back on the sidelines and leaders like Dela Cruz already playing with playoff intensity, the Lady Spikers only have their own complacency to beat at this point as the path to another Final Four run opens wide ahead of them.
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