MANILA, Philippines -- Defending champion National University (NU) went to Dindin Santiago in the deciding fifth set as it turned back a gritty University of Santo Tomas (UST), 25-19, 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 15-10, Sunday to seize the solo lead in Group B of the Shakey's V-League Season 11-1st Conference at packed The Arena in San Juan City.
Seeing its once mighty five-point lead sliced to just one, 11-10, the 6-foot-3 Santiago scored a pair of hits -- a spike that was blocked by UST's Carmela Tunay but went out and the latter an unchecked kill which connected -- that helped quash the Tigresses' late rally and seal the Lady Bulldogs their second straight win.
Ivy Perez then unloaded an ace that hit the net at first that caught UST off-guard and allowed the ball to land on a suprisingly empty space up front before Carmina Aganon blasted away with a powerful kill in sealing the deal.
Aganon wound up leading her team with 17 hits while Jaja Santiago, the phenomenal 6-foot-6 younger sister of Dindin, fired 14 including five via blocks.
Dindin, Aiko Urdas, and Myla Pablo chipped in 11 apiece while Perez had 11 including that jarring ace in the final set.
NU coach Ariel dela Cruz, a former national team player who took over the coaching reins last year, said keeping their composure in the fifth set proved to be the key.
"We didn't panic, we kept our cool, that really helped us," said dela Cruz, who was then consultant to interim coach Ejjet Mabbayad when NU bested Ateneo in three games to crown itself champion.
Coming into this match as a complete underdog after placing only 6th in the last UAAP season, the Tigresses came roaring back from two sets down and forced a fifth set after riding on the slender shoulders of EJ Laure.
Laure, a daughter of PBA veteran and former MBA star Eddie and a recent high school graduate at UST who was allowed to play as a guest player, debuted with a bang as she unloaded a game-high 23, 22 coming off kills.
After her spectacular performance, the 16-year-old Laure became an instant superstar and a top trending topic in Twitter and gained the admiration of many including the NU coach.
"She didn't look like a high school player because she plays like a veteran," said dela Cruz of Laure.
Interestingly, Pamela Lastimosa and Marivic Meneses, who scored 16 and 14, are also second-generation players being nieces of former PBA stars Jojo Lastimosa and now Jose Rizal coach Vergel Meneses.