Alyssa Valdez and her Ateneo teammates celebrate -- Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Lady Eagles continued their fairy-tale run in the UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball tournament by shocking the favored National University Lady (NU) Bulldogs to advance to the Finals for the third consecutive year.
Ateneo, rebuilding after losing five key players from their Season 75 team, overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage and dispatched of NU in four sets Saturday to earn the right to face defending champions De La Salle University in the finals.
“Everybody played good today,” Ateneo coach Anusorn “Tai” Bundit said after the match. “(My players) worked hard in training against tough competition. Their hearts are strong, and we played happily in a team concept.”
“Heart strong” has been Ateneo’s rallying cry this season that saw them earn the third-seed with a 10-4 record, losing only to NU and La Salle in the eliminations.
Ateneo skipper and top MVP candidate Alyssa Valdez personified the Lady Eagles’ motto, shaking off a twisted ankle in the third set to finish with 22 points – including the game-clinching kill.
“We knew we can do it,” Valdez said. “Coach believed in us so much. He just kept on pushing us to try hard. We just have to show it on the court.”
But it was far from an easy job for the Lady Eagles, who collapsed in the second set, losing 8-25 in the face of NU’s stunning net defense.
“Ang problema namin noong set two, natalo kami (dahil) walang coverage,” Ateneo team manager Tony Boy Liao said. “In short, not all bases were covered. Meron kaming receive, open ang spike, pero no coverage.”
They also came close to losing in the fourth set, as NU captain DinDin Santiago brought her team back from a 19-23 deficit to threaten, 22-23.
But Santiago also cost her team when she committed a brutal service error that put Ateneo at match point, 24-23, and Valdez dashed the Lady Bulldogs’s hopes with a vicious kill in the next play to bring the Lady Eagles to the Finals once again.
Ateneo faces La Salle in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum. The Lady Spikers, thanks to their thrice-to-beat advantage, need to win only twice to claim their fourth consecutive women’s volleyball championship.