It was mission accomplished for the De La Salle University Lady Spikers, as the defending champions were able to retain their crown and win the UAAP Season 79 women's volleyball title for the second consecutive year.
While last year's Finals Most Valuable Player Kim Dy, newly awarded season MVP Majoy Baron, the graduating Kim Fajardo, and up-and-coming Fil-Canadian Tin Tiamzon made significant contributions to a successful title defense, another name stood out as the series' best player: outside hitter Desiree Cheng.
Hailing from Hope Christian High School (whose volleyball alumni include Manila Santos, Bernice Co, and Melissa Gohing), Cheng was touted as one of the prized recruits entering Season 76. Her rookie year turned out to be the ultimate baptism of fire, as she was expected to fill the void in the starting lineup left by the departing Michelle Gumabao.
But things wouldn't go according to plan; Cheng underwhelmed in her first two campaigns, then tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2015, causing her to miss the entire collegiate tournament that year. She had high hopes for her comeback, but...
Zero to hero
Safe to say, the third-year spiker didn't have a productive first half, mustering a dismal 31 points in La Salle's initial seven games, and struggling to find her groove offensively. But unlike her first year, Cheng bounced back in the next round—she doubled her output (72) and put up double figures in five of those matches.
She capped her remarkable stretch run with Russell Westbrook-like numbers in their Game 2 clincher, posting 12 points, 12 digs, and 13 receptions for the Lady Spikers. She told reporters post-game, "First naman po hindi ko ine-expect na maging Finals MVP (ako), ang hangad ko po talaga, yung big trophy, yung championship.
Unparalleled dedication to victory
Head coach Ramil de Jesus, in his 20th year as DLSU tactician, described Cheng's outstanding season in a nutshell with this anecdote: "Madalas ngang umiiyak ito sa training. Kasi sabi ko hindi pwedeng ganyang klase ang galaw mo, hindi aabot yan. Sabi ko pagbalik mo itong Season 79 dapat ibang Des Cheng ang darating dito. Mas higit pang Des Cheng."
And, true to her coach's words, Desiree Cheng delivered an outstanding performance that was well recognized by fans and critics of the game.