MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) After experiencing heartbreak multiple times against Ateneo de Manila University, the Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws finally got a breakthrough win against the Lady Eagles in their very first game of UAAP Season 80.
In front of a capacity crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday, the Lady Tamaraws proved to be the steadier team down the stretch as they outlasted the Lady Eagles in five thrilling sets, 19-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-20, 15-9.
Chin-chin Basas pounced on Ateneo's spotty reception in the closing stretch, firing two aces to anchor a stunning 8-0 closing blast that the Lady Eagles had no answer for.
It was FEU's first win over Ateneo since the second round of Season 75. In Season 79, the Lady Tamaraws lost both of their elimination round games in five sets, then bowed to the Lady Eagles in the Final 4 in four sets.
This time around, however, the Lady Tamaraws would not be denied as they overwhelmed the Lady Eagles in crunch time to pull out the win in two hours and nine minutes.
"It's a good birthday gift, 'yung first game, first win," said new FEU coach George Pascua, who turns 46 on Monday. "Itong panalo ay pang-high morale sa players, knowing na Ateneo ang tinalo namin. This is a big start for us."
Skipper Bernadeth Pons shrugged off a slow start to finish with 14 points on top of 13 digs and 16 excellent receptions, while Basas finished with the same number of points – six of which came on aces. Celine Domingo had 10 points in her debut for the Lady Tamaraws.
Ateneo shocked FEU with a 25-19 win in the opening set, thanks in part to the Lady Tamaraws' 11 unforced errors. But FEU bounced back in a big way in the second frame as they peppered Ateneo with eight service aces.
In the third frame, Ateneo established its net defense to surge to take the lead in the match once more, with Jules Samonte and Kat Tolentino blocking Basas in consecutive rallies to punctuate the Lady Eagles' 4-0 run to end the set.
However, the Lady Tamaraws forced a decider as Ateneo succumbed to errors, while Pons began to take charge after a sluggish start to the game. She brought FEU to set point, 24-20, before Jho Maraguinot saved one with a down-the-line kill. But new setter Deanna Wong ended any hopes of an Ateneo comeback in the fourth set with a service error.
The Lady Eagles surged to a fast start in the deciding frame, taking a 6-1 advantage as both Basas and Pons committed attack errors, while Maraguinot came up with a massive off-the-block kill. Ateneo's early lead forced Pascua to burn an early timeout.
"Sabi ko, 'di natatapos ang volleyball sa 6-1," Pascua said of his message to his players. "Kilala ko na ang players ko. Alam na nilang i-handle, kasi ine-ensayo nila 'yun, kaya confident ako."
The Lady Tamaraws repaid their coach's trust. Ateneo scored only three points the rest of the way, with Maraguinot committing back-to-back attack errors that helped FEU tie the set at 6-all.
The Lady Eagles last led at 9-7, off a backrow hit by Maraguinot, but she committed a service error to open the next rally, and Ateneo never recovered. They gave up two aces to Basas, then committed back-to-back errors. The error that gave FEU its 13th point of the set was particularly brutal, as Maraguinto and Wong miscommunicated on who would get the second ball.
Pons's down-the-line attack put FEU at match point, and Ateneo's fate was sealed when Kat Tolentino sent her attack way out in the final rally.
The Lady Eagles gave up a whopping four aces in the fifth set, while also committing eight unforced errors.
For the whole match, they gave up 20 aces, which negated the advantage that they had in attacks, 42-34, and in blocks, 11-8.
Maraguinot had a team-high 21 points for Ateneo, while Tolentino finished with 14 points. But no other Lady Eagle finished in double-digits, though Samonte had nine points including four blocks.
Wong, making her first start after replacing iconic Ateneo setter Jia Morado, had 40 excellent sets in a losing effort.
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