MANILA, Philippines – After emerging triumphant in another five-set war against Far Eastern University (FEU), the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles could not help but be amazed at the grit and effort of the Lady Tamaraws.
When they played in the first round, it was Ateneo that displayed its tenacity, climbing out of a 1-2 set deficit to win in five sets. In the second round, however, FEU threatened to return the favor. The Lady Tamaraws clawed their way back from a two-set hole, forced a fifth, where they eventually sputtered.
The 25-20, 25-22, 17-25, 21-25, 15-8 victory last Saturday was Ateneo's eighth consecutive win, and afterward they could only breathe a sigh of relief at having survived the Lady Tamaraws' charge.
"Hindi ka pwede magpahinga sa FEU," said Ateneo assistant coach Sherwin Meneses. "Grabe ang depensa nila."
[You can't relax against FEU. Their defense is superb.]
Ateneo owns the most potent offense in the UAAP, with setter Jia Morado expertly deploying Jho Maraguinot, Kat Tolentino, Michelle Morente, and Bea de Leon. Against FEU on Saturday, however, they saw even their most powerful spikes get dug up, with Ria Duremdes, Bernadeth Pons, and Toni Rose Basas diving all over the floor to keep balls alive.
Duremdes finished with 25 of FEU's 62 excellent digs in the game. Basas had nine excellent digs of her own, and FEU's first ball became more stable as the game progressed.
To make the game even more difficult for Ateneo, their service receive faltered, especially in the third and fourth sets. It took a season-best effort by Maraguinot and FEU's own errors in the final set to eventually hand Ateneo the victory.
Maraguinot summed up their thoughts on FEU when she said: "Nakakaloka sila."
"Ang galing din nila," added Maraguinot, who scored a season-high 23 points in the contest. "Nakakapag-adjust din sila in the middle of the game."
[They were great. They could adjust in the middle of the game.]
De Leon, who contributed 12 points including a crucial service ace in the fifth set, also noted that FEU's pace clearly affected them. Ateneo is known for its quick offense, especially in transition, but the Lady Tamaraws' speed stunned them.
"We didn't know where the ball was going," De Leon admitted. "And si Pons – we all know how good of a player Pons is. They're really smart. You see naman how Pons would just drop it to the other side, so you wouldn't know where to go. We didn't know which side to block her."
"Nauunahan nila kami sa bilis," she added.
There is no doubt that FEU gained Ateneo's admiration and respect with their courageous stand, but it still does not change the result for the Lady Tamaraws. They have now lost eight consecutive UAAP matches to the Lady Eagles, dating back to Season 76.
The stretch of futility, especially for one of the UAAP's most storied volleyball programs, can be frustrating. However, the Lady Tamaraws said they are staying patient and taking the positives that came with the defeat.
"No. 1 team ang Ateneo. So 'yung level niyan, andoon na talaga. So kami, kailangan tapangan pa namin para andoon na kami din sa level nila. Kaunti na lang," said FEU captain Remy Palma.
[Atenep's the No. 1 team, so they play at a high level. We have to play better and be even more courageous, so we can reach their level. We're getting there.]
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