MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – The Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) battled back from two sets down to beat Far Eastern University (FEU) and marched into the UAAP men’s volleyball finals on Saturday.
The Tamaraws took the first two sets, 23-25, 19-25, before the Blue Spikers came to their senses and closed out the contest by taking the next three frames 25-17, 28-26, 15-13.
Marck Espejo scored 24 points on 23 attacks to lead Ateneo to its first appearance in the UAAP men’s volleyball finals in 34 years.
Rex Intal had seven blocks to finish with 19 hits for the Blue Spikers, who will take on the winner of the other Final Four, pairing between top seed National University and fourth-ranked Adamson University, whose series will start on Wednesday.
The high-leaping Espejo said his team never wavered even after seeing themselves lagging behind the Morayta-based Tamaraws.
"Sumunod lang kami sa game plan ni coach, tapos puso lang talaga at character ang ipinanglaban namin sa sets na 'yon," Espejo said during the post-game interview.
He added that they were just taking it one game at a time until they reach their ultimate goal, which is to win their first UAAP volleyball title.
"Hindi ko ine-expect na ganito ang mangyayari ito sa amin (making to the finals) so parang naglalaro lang kami. Kung saan kami umabot ganun lang," said Espejo.
The Tamaraws were two match points away from sending the semifinals to a decider, but Karl dela Calzada and Lucky Margate misfired on their service.
"The players responded sa instructions," said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro. "Sa first two sets, wala 'yung maturity ng team because most of them are rookies and sophomores while FEU, sanay sa ganitong labanan. Pero nang maka-recover sa third set, hindi na namin binitawan."
The Blue Spikers closed out the intense match after Joshua Villanueva blocked Greg Dolor's attempt in the middle.
In his final game for the Tamaraws, Dela Calzada finished with 15 points, including two blocks and five digs, while Raymond Bautista added 14 markers.
"Motivated ang mga bata because of the tremendous support of the Ateneo community," said Almadro.
The Blue Spikers finished second in the eliminations with an 11-3 card to secure a twice-to-beat advantage, while the Tamaraws settled for third spot with 9-5.