Alyssa Valdez and her Ateneo teammates celebrate after scoring against NU. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Ateneo de Manila University finished the job against National University in their stepladder semis to clinch the remaining finals berth in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament on Saturday.
After dropping the second set, the Lady Eagles took the next two frames to complete a 25-22, 8-25, 25-19, 25-22 win against the Lady Bulldogs at the Araneta Coliseum.
The victory has allowed Ateneo to arrange a third-consecutive championship showdown with archrival De La Salle University for the UAAP women’s volleyball crown.
"Everybody played good today. [My players] worked hard in training against tough competition [in NU]. Their hearts are strong, we played happily in a team concept," said Ateneo Head Coach Anusorn "Tai" Bundit.
There was no denying that the Lady Eagles played with the bigger heart, as the losing finalists in the last three seasons employed practically the same strategy they used in frustrating the twice-to-beat Lady Bulldogs last Wednesday, 25-17, 12-25, 31-29, 28-26.
Ella De Jesus had an all-around performance of 12 points, seven digs and 10 receptions for Ateneo, while Alyssa Valdez, who played with a sprained left ankle starting in the third set, had a team-high 22 points on 16 attacks and five blocks. Michelle Morente and Amy Ahomiro contributed nine points each for the Lady Eagles.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Lady Bulldogs, who were seeking their first championship appearance in the Final Four era.
Dindin Santiago finished with 19 points for NU, but spoiled her last season in the league with a looping serve that went way beyond the baseline, sending the Lady Eagles to a triple match point. Her younger sister Jaja compiled 14 points.
Team manager Tony Boy Liao, who aided Bundit during the interview, said that the team watched enough tape of Dindin Santiago’s attacking mannerisms and covered all the necessary areas in neutralizing her attacks.
"Sa video ng past game, halos lahat ng palo [ni Dindin Santiago] eh running. Ang tactic lang, sa position one lang bumabagsak ang bola. So pag nag-running siya at 'di namin ma-block, sigurado sa zone one babagsak. So dapat merong depensa doon," Liao said.
"Ang problema kanina nung set two, natalo kami [dahil] walang coverage. In short, not all bases were covered. Meron kaming receive, open ang spike, pero no coverage."
The Lady Eagles and the four-peat-seeking Lady Spikers will square off at 4 p.m. on Wednesday also at the Araneta Coliseum with the Taft-based belles enjoying a twice-to-win, thrice-to-beat advantage for sweeping the 14-game eliminations.
Ateneo, on the other hand, had to go through the stepladder semifinals against the Adamson Lady Falcons and the Lady Bulldogs before reaching the finals.