MANILA, Philippines - It will be a fitting climax to the UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball tournament holder La Salle against overachieving archrival Ateneo, the two hottest teams of the competition in a final confrontation before an expected sea of green and blue beginning Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Champions the past three seasons, the DLSU Lady Spikers got their projected spot in this year’s finale via a spectacular sweep of the 14-game elims, extending their amazing win streak to 30 games since Season 75.
The “rebuilding” Lady Eagles will be coming in with a seven-game win streak of their own, completing their improbable run to the finals with a pair of ego-boosting, four-set victories over twice-to-beat second seed National U in the stepladder semis.
The Loyola-based spikers beat the Lady Bulldogs, 25-17, 12-25, 31-29, 28-26, in the first game last Wednesday, and hacked out another 25-22, 8-25, 25-19, 25-22 victory in last Sunday’s sudden death.
But the rookie-laden Ateneo will enter this latest title duel with a huge disadvantage.
Not only has La Salle retained a big part of the core of its three-peat-winning team, it also enjoys a thrice-to-beat advantage in the finale, an incentive for its elims sweep.
Psychologically, the Lady Spikers also have the edge, having beaten the Lady Eagles rather easily this season, 25-16, 25-20, 25-16 before 13,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena last Jan. 12, and 25-14, 25-14, 25-19 a week later at the Arena.
And DLSU will be fresher, having had a long break since sweeping the elims last Feb. 15.
However daunting the task is, Ateneo’s Thai coach Anusorn Bundit believes it’s not an impossible one.
“We believe we can beat La Salle,” said Bundit, who was vacationing in Bangkok when the Lady Eagles dropped back-to-back three-set defeats at the hands of the Lady Spikers last January.
The Lady Eagles have embraced the battle cry “heart strong,” which has served them well in their surprising rise.
“(My players) worked hard in training against tough competition. Their hearts are strong, and we played happily in a team concept,” said the man fondly called “Coach Tai” by the team.
Alyssa Valdez, the remnant of the 2013 team, has carried the fight for Ateneo, punching in 29 and 22 pointers against NU, and has gotten sufficient support from Ella de Jesus, Denise Lazaro, Michelle Morente and Amy Ahomiro.
“We knew we can do it. Coach believed in us so much. He just kept on pushing us to try hard. We just have to show it on the court,” said Valdez.
This will be the third straight finals faceoff for La Salle and Ateneo, which were responsible for drawing the largest crowd of 19,638 fans in 2013.
They are expected to command tens of thousands of supporters once more when they dispute the Season 76 diadem.