MANILA, Philippines – The University of Sto. Tomas Tigresses sent a warning to the rest of the competition after they stunned the two-time defending champion De La Salle Lady Spikers in their first game of the UAAP Season 75 women's volleyball tournament.
The two rivals engaged in high-level volleyball for five sets, with the Tigresses outlasting the Lady Spikers, 25-22, 25-13, 12-25, 21-25 and 15-9, at the Arena in San Juan Sunday.
UST took the first two sets before La Salle found their rhythm in the third frame to eventually force a do-or-die fifth set.
In Set 5, however, it was the Tigresses who showed championship poise as they raced to a 11-4 lead behind the effort of Maru Banaticla, who bucked a lethargic start to the game and kept the La Salle defense guessing with her varied attacks.
Plays by Ara Galang, Kim Fajardo and Season 74 MVP Abby Maraño kept the door open for La Salle, but a cross court attack by Judy Caballejo put the Tigresses at match point, 14-7.
A block by Maraño and an attack error by Caballejo allowed La Salle to come as close as 14-9, but Caballejo quickly made up for her error by scoring the winning point with a down the line hit.
Caballejo finished with 22 points on 20 attacks and two serves, and was backed up by Maika Ortiz with 13 points. Carmela Tunay and Banaticla both scored 10.
It was UST's first win against La Salle since Game 2 of the UAAP Season 72 Finals in February 2010.
In the first set, Maraño picked up where she left off last season as she scored the first three points for La Salle.
But the Lady Spikers' poor reception allowed the Tigresses to claw back in the game. After the first technical timeout, it became a nip-and-tuck contest, with the teams exchanging leads.
A series of strong serves from Ortiz allowed UST to pull away after the second technical timeout, and then new setter Loren Lantin took advantage of a hole in the La Salle defense to end the set, 25-22.
The second set was all UST, however, with Ortiz, Lantin, and Caballejo taking turns in terrorizing the La Salle defense. A Lantin service ace tied the set at 11-all, but that sparked a 12-0 run that allowed UST to take a commanding 22-11 lead.
An offensive block by Ara Galang ended the UST run, but it was a case of too little, too late as the Tigresses took the set 25-13.
The Lady Spikers found their rhythm in the third set, as they took advantage of UST's poor reception and uneven offense to win, 25-12.
Determined to push the match into a decider, the Lady Spikers took control of the fourth set after the second technical timeout. A crosscourt hit by Michelle Gumabao put the Lady Spikers at set point, 24-18, but the Tigresses saved three set points before a service error by Tunay gave La Salle the set.
The fifth set finally moved to the UST's side as Banaticla and Caballejo both came up clutch while the Lady Spikers suddenly seemed more tentative despite having the momentum on their side.
Marano and Mika Reyes each had 14 points for La Salle, while Wensch Tiu added 13 and Galang finished with 12.
UP snaps 16-game losing streak
In the first game, the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons snapped a 16-game losing streak after outlasting the University of the East Lady Warriors in five sets, 25-18, 25-15, 18-25, 25-27, and 15-6.
Princess Mae Se sparked the Lady Maroons to victory with 14 points on 11 attacks and three serves.
The Lady Maroons had the momentum after a commanding victory in the second set, only to see the Lady Warriors fight back thanks to the effort of Faith Bulan.
UP then battled back from a six-point deficit in the fourth set and came close to clinching the victory, 25-24, but they committed three straight errors that allowed the Lady Warriors to force a decider.
But the fifth set was all-UP as the Lady Maroons finally earned a victory after going without a win in Season 74.
"Na-tense din kami kasi noong third and fourth sets, nag-low ang energy (namin). Iniisip namin na sana makabalik na, at bumalik naman noong fifth set yung aggressiveness," said Se, who scored the winning point for UP.