MANILA, Philippines – (2ND UPDATE) The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles and the De La Salle University Lady Spikers added another chapter to their storied rivalry with a classic encounter in the "Battle of the Rivals" in front of thousands of fans at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday evening.
As she has done time and again throughout her remarkable UAAP career, Ateneo superstar Alyssa Valdez powered the Lady Eagles past their arch-rivals, this time in come-from-behind fashion.
After falling behind by two sets, the Lady Eagles rallied to take a heart-stopping 17-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13 victory.
Valdez, a three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player, conspired with setter Jia Morado in leading the Lady Eagles' comeback, with help from veterans Amy Ahomiro and Ella de Jesus, and libero Denden Lazaro. Also shining for the Lady Eagles was young middle blocker Bea de Leon.
Carrying the load on offense was Valdez, who scored 36 points on 32 attacks, one block, and three service aces. De Jesus was the only other Lady Eagle in double-digits with 11 points, and Morado orchestrated Ateneo's offense to finish with 58 excellent sets.
"We really enjoyed the game kanina talaga," said Valdez. "It's been a while since I played Ateneo-La Salle, and it's been a while since we played together talaga as a team. We're just really happy na alam mo 'yun, nag-enjoy kami at naka-tulong pa kami."
La Salle erected a 2-0 set lead by pouncing on Ateneo's unforced errors and putting up a wall at the net, but the Lady Eagles roared back in the third and fourth behind a steady stream of attacks from Valdez. It helped that the Lady Spikers also began to commit uncharacteristic errors, especially on their attacks.
In the fifth set, the Lady Eagles surged to an early 7-3 advantage, thanks in part to attack errors by Michele Gumabao and Paneng Mercardo, and a crossing violation called on Kim Fajardo.
The Lady Spikers struck back, however, with former two-time UAAP MVP Abigail Maraño leading the way. She scored back-to-back hits to tie the set at eight, then bothered Valdez at the net to give La Salle a 9-8 advantage.
Both squads traded points, with Maraño's off-the-block kill giving La Salle its last lead, 11-10. Unfortunately, the former La Salle skipper committed a service error to start the next rally, allowing Ateneo to tie the frame. Valdez fired a hit down-the-line for the lead, and La Salle committed back-to-back miscues – first a mishit by Ara Galang, then a double contact by Chie Saet – to put the Lady Eagles at match point, 14-11.
The Lady Spikers were able to save two match points, thanks to an offspeed kill by Galang and an ace by Fajardo, but Valdez would simply not be denied. She powered a spike off the La Salle blockers to clinch the victory, drawing roars from the blue-clad Ateneo fans at the MOA Arena.
"La Salle really gave us a good fight. And it's not only for the scholars, I think, but for our school, for our pride, and for all the fans na pumunta talaga dito para manood," said Valdez.
Morado was named the match MVP for Ateneo, having scored five points on top of her excellent sets.
"It felt great playing again with familiar people," said Morado. "It took some adjustments, pero nakuha din namin eventually."
Meanwhile, Maraño was the match MVP for La Salle after scoring 16 points, 10 off attacks, three on blocks, and three on aces. Galang had 16 points as well, while Mercado scored 13 points and was La Salle's best option for most of the first two sets.
The Lady Spikers had more blocks, 7-4, and aces, 8-6, while committing fewer errors, 31-33. However, the Lady Eagles outgunned them, 62-55, on attacks and that made the difference in the tightly contested showdown.
The match was held for the benefit of the two schools' athletic scholarships as well as that of Rebisco's.
The Battle of the Rivals on July 22 at 6 p.m. on ABS-CBN Sports+Action.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.