MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo drew strength from the arrival of a veteran Thai Jaroensri Bualee as it turned back a feisty Santo Tomas, 20-25, 25-16, 29-27, 25-14, to move on the cusp of gaining crack at a third finals appearance in the Shakey's V-League Season 10-First Conference at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The power-spiking Bualee, picked up just a few days back from an already-ran San Sebastian, provided the Lady Eagles the needed scoring and defending as she came through with 15 kills and four blocks to wind up with a total of 19 hits.
"Our weakness is really the middle and she (Bualee) filled that gaping hole well," said Ateneo coach Roger Gorayeb. "Aside from the scoring and some blocking, she is also a veteran presence that my younger players respect a lot. We need someone like that, an elder sister to everyone."
With Bualee added to the mix, Alyssa Valdez got some space and took advantage of it by uncorking a match-high 25 hits, including 19 on kills, and five on service winners that helped Ateneo a lot.
Rachel Daquis, Ateneo's local import, unloaded 13 hits while Fille Cainglet chipped in 10 as the Lady Eagles gain a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three Final Four showdown.
Ateneo will gun for the jugular on Thursday when the league goes to the more spacious MOA Arena in Pasay City for the first time in league. A deciding Game Three, if necessary, is set on Sunday back at the Philsports Arena.
Carmela Tunay, Maika Ortiz, Aiza Maizo and Pamela Lastimosa spearheaded the Tigresses with 14, 13, 12 and 10 hits, respectively, but have yet to get the needed production from the seasoned pair Maruja Banaticla and Judy Caballejo.
Banaticla and Caballejo have yet to regain their old lethal form after focusing on their beach volley training the past few months, resulting on a second place finish in the finals of the Nestea Beach in Boracay last May.
It looked like though UST is taking this match after snatching the opening set.
But the Loyola-based lady spikers checked their skid and went on attack mode in the second set to knot it at one set apiece.
Ateneo then emerged victories in a tightly-fought third set and then went back on beast mode by convincingly hauling the decisive fourth set.
"We committed a lot of errors in the first set, that's why we lost that set," said Gorayeb. "And when we started to minimize our mistakes and execute our game plan both on offense and defense, we started to get our game going."