MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED) For the second straight season, the De La Salle University Lady Spikers are the queens of UAAP women's volleyball.
In a thrilling showdown against their archrivals, the Lady Spikers showed their championship poise in hacking out a 19-25, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10 victory over the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles in Game 2 of the Season 79 Finals at Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.
The hard-fought win allowed the Lady Spikers to sweep their best-of-three series over the Lady Eagles, and secure their second consecutive title. It was also their 10th overall championship, all of which came under the guidance of coach Ramil de Jesus.
"Siguro, sa lahat ng na-form ko na team, ito 'yung medyo roller-coaster [Of all the teams I've formed, this is the one that performed like a roller-coaster]," said De Jesus, referring to La Salle's relatively shaky elimination round campaign wherein they went 11-3, losing twice to Ateneo. "I'm very, very happy right now."
It was a balanced effort by the Lady Spikers, with last season's finals MVP Kianna Dy scoring 19 points, Tin Tiamzon 16 points, and eventual finals MVP Desiree Cheng contributing 12. Season 79 MVP Majoy Baron had 10 points.
It was not an easy victory for the Lady Spikers. Like Game 1, the Lady Eagles seized the first frame, though La Salle bounced back in the second set on the strength of graduating setter Kim Fajardo's spectacular service game.
Ateneo seized control of the match anew in the third, with Bea de Leon anchoring a 5-0 run through her serve that allowed the Lady Eagles to pull away, 13-10. They completely distanced themselves later, this time with Kim Gequillana coming through with an ace to spark a 4-0 attack, turning a slim 18-16 lead into a 22-16 advantage.
With Ateneo fans chanting "Game 3, Game 3" ahead of the fourth set, the Lady Spikers buckled down to work. The two squads traded points early, but La Salle took control midway, thanks to a series of errors by the Lady Eagles and an ace by Tiamzon.
Ateneo came as close as three points, 21-18, but La Salle ended the frame with four unanswered points capped by a resounding block by Dy on Michelle Morente.
"Sabi ko lang, ayaw kong umabot ng Game 3," said De Jesus of his message to the players ahead of the fourth set. "So sabi ko sa kanila, tatapusin natin ngayon. Maniwala lang kayo na tatapusin natin ngayon."
[I told them that I didn't want it to reach a Game 3. I told them that we will end it today, they just need to believe that they can end it today.]
The Lady Spikers raced out to a quick 6-1 lead in the fifth and deciding frame, forcing Ateneo to play catchup the rest of the way. The Lady Eagles had no answer for Tiamzon and Dy, who conspired to punch attacks through Ateneo's porous defense.
De Leon's net defense and Kim Gequillana's ace allowed the Lady Eagles to come to within two points, 10-8, but La Salle restored order immediately through Cheng and Tiamzon.
A swipe by Jhoana Maraguinot proved to be Ateneo's last stand, 10-14, before Baron's quick kill and an attack error by Maraguinot wrapped up the victory for the Lady Spikers.
It was a fitting ending to the UAAP career of Fajardo, who returned to the Lady Spikers for her final year and served as the inspiration of the team all throughout their title defense. The captain had six points on four aces, along with 43 excellent sets, in her final game for La Salle.
"She was my main inspiration for today's game," said Dy of the graduating Fajardo. "I'm happy that we were able to give her the exit that she deserves."
"Sobrang saya ko talaga," said Fajardo. "Hindi ko naramdaman na ako 'yung pinakamatanda sa amin. Hindi ko naramdaman na ako 'yung mag-isa, na ako lang 'yung lumalaban. Never ko na-feel 'yun."
[I'm so happy. I never once felt that I was the oldest person in the team, that I was alone in the fight. They never made me feel like that.]
Morente had 16 points for Ateneo, while De Leon and Maraguinot each tallied 14, and Kat Tolentino scored 10. Morado also had six points and 53 excellent sets to her credit.
However, for the second straight game, the Lady Eagles were unusually error-prone. They gave away 33 free points to La Salle due to their errors, and their spotty reception allowed the Lady Spikers to score 12 points off aces.
La Salle has now beaten Ateneo in four of their six Finals meetings dating back to Season 74.
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