NU players celebrate after defeating Ateneo in Game 2 of the UAAP 76 men's volleyball finals. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – Defending UAAP men’s volleyball champions National University (NU) Bulldogs believe the turning point of their season came when the Ateneo Blue Eagles summarily routed them in their second-round encounter.
Then toting a spotless 7-0 record after sweeping the second round, the Bulldogs were lackluster against an inspired Ateneo squad, and the Blue Eagles won in straight sets to humble the defending champions.
“Naging kumpyansa kami noong first round dahil na-sweep namin,” admitted NU veteran Berlin Paglinawan on “The Score” Monday night. “Nagkaroon ng pagre-relax sa training, masyadong kumpyansa.”
“Hindi namin alam, naghahanda din ‘yun kalaban, kaya a’yun, binulaga talaga kami,” he added. “Halos parang binangungot talaga kami sa nangyari sa amin. Second round namin, talo (agad), straight sets pa.”
In hindsight, the loss was exactly what the Bulldogs needed to give them fire in their campaign to defend the crown.
“Sabi nga ng coach namin noon, panggising siya,” said Peter Torres, the Finals MVP of Season 75. “Napansin niya nga na after the first round, noong na-sweep namin, medyo petiks na kami sa training, relaxed na.”
“After noon, medyo bumalik na ulit kami sa seryoso, ‘yung seryosong training talaga, at mas nakapaghanda kami ng maayos,” he added.
The Bulldogs did gain revenge against Ateneo, beating the youthful Blue Eagles in the finals to repeat as champions. Yet Paglinawan admitted that Ateneo still gave them a tough time in the best-of-three series.
“(Mas mahirap) ngayong year, kasi ngayong year magy pinanghahawakan kaming titulo na, nag-champion kami last year, so kailangan, this year mag-champion ulit tayo,” he said. “Pero pinahirapan kami ng Ateneo. Sobrang pinahirapan kami talaga.”
This is partly due to the fact that Ateneo is now coached by Oliver Almadro, the same coach who put together the Bulldogs.
“Ang nag-build talaga ng team namin ngayon, si Coach Oliver talaga,” Paglinawan revealed. “Ang laki din ng pasasalamat namin sa kanya, kasi kung hindi dahil sa kanya, wala kami dito ngayon.”
But that also meant that the Blue Eagles can anticipate their plays.
“’Yung play namin, ‘yun din ‘yung play na ginagawa ng Ateneo,” said Paglinawan. “So bantay na bantay kami.”
Torres, who came alive in Game 2 of the Finals after playing decoy most of the way, said it was their blocking and defense that allowed them to pull away from the Blue Eagles.
“Pinag-aralan din namin sila, at mas nag-focus lang kami sa block namin at sa receiving namni, kasi doon kami kumukuha ng points,” he explained. “Kapag nakaka-receive kami, nakakagawa kami ng play at pag napipigilan namin ‘yung atake nila, mas madali ‘yung buhay.”
Paglinawan added that in the end, it was their experience and will to win that made the difference.
“Nagkataluhan na lang sa sinong gustong manalo,” he said.