MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 1) The National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs advanced to the semi-finals of the women's volleyball tournament for the first time in school history after beating the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Tigresses in four sets Wednesday at the San Juan Arena.
With veteran Cai Nepomuceno leading the way, the Lady Bulldogs defeated the Tigresses, 25-19, 21-25, 25-16 and 25-23, in their playoff match for the last Final Four slot in the UAAP Season 75 tournament.
Nepomuceno scored 23 points, including the last two for the Lady Bulldogs, as they earned the right to face the top-seeded defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers in the Final Four.
"Wala akong ginawa kung hindi mag-focus. Hindi ko iniintindi ang crowd," said Nepomuceno. "Ganoon din ang ginawa ng teammates ko."
The two squads entered the match with identical 8-6 records, but history was on the side of the Tigresses, who have made the Final Four for 10 consecutive seasons.
But the Tigresses came out flat and their receiving left much to be desired as NU claimed the first set, with Nepomuceno and DinDin Santiago leading the charge.
The tide turned in the second set as it was NU’s turn to suffer from poor receiving, allowing the Tigresses to take control. Late errors by UST allowed the Lady Bulldogs to threaten, although they managed to equalize, 25-21.
Santiago dominated at the net for NU in the third set, while the Tigresses shot themselves in the foot by committing several unforced errors. The Lady Bulldogs took Set 3, 25-16.
The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair, though NU was able to gain a 22-20 lead after denying a running hit from Maika Ortiz. A service error by Santiago and a block by Jessey De Leon allowed the Tigresses to tie the set at 22-all, paving the way for a tight finish.
Aiko Urdas regained the lead for the Lady Bulldogs, and Nepomuceno scored consecutive points to clinch the set.
"This is my last year, kailangan all out," said Nepomuceno.
Santiago finished with 21 points, including five blocks, for the Lady Bulldogs, while libero Jen Reyes had 11 digs.
In her last UAAP game, UST skipper Judy Caballejo finished with 15 points and nine digs, but did not get enough support from other veterans, including Ortiz and Maru Banaticla.
The Lady Bulldogs will face off against the Lady Spikers on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum, with La Salle holding a twice-to-beat advantage.