MANILA, Philippines – National University (NU) found itself on the brink of a massive collapse against Ateneo de Manila University on Wednesday, as they squandered a two-set advantage against the suddenly surging Lady Eagles.
After peppering Ateneo with aces in the first two sets, the Lady Bulldogs looked tentative in the third and fourth. They did not even register a single block or an ace in the fourth set, when the Lady Eagles won in dominant fashion, 25-12.
Yet the Lady Bulldogs, with Jaja Santiago leading the way, had no intentions of losing to the Lady Eagles, especially after working so hard to build a two-set lead in the first place. Santiago overpowered the Ateneo blockers in the deciding frame, and Jasmin Nabor iced their win with three consecutive aces.
"They trusted each other," NU coach Babes Castillo said of his players after the Lady Bulldogs secured a 25-19, 25-19, 20-25, 12-25, 15-7 triumph.
This would not have been in the case in previous years, Castillo noted. Before, the Lady Bulldogs would fall apart when trailing, instead of "affirming and confirming each other," as the coach would want.
Against Ateneo on Wednesday, however, the Lady Bulldogs refused to fall apart completely. "Smile lang (sila)," said Castillo, who observed how Santiago, their team captain, expressed her support to Jorelle Singh after the latter made three straight errors.
"That's one character that you can build up through the season – kapag may character na ganoon, at lalo na kung lahat sila ganoon, maganda ang mangyayari," said Castillo.
"Kanina, ipinakita nila na sometimes, when you lose, that's when you win. I think that's what happened in the third and four sets. When we lost, we won kasi nakita nila na we have to bank on our character, we have to bank on our attitude," he added.
Santiago affirmed her coach's statement, and stressed that they were simply too determined to win the game and improve to 2-0 in the UAAP Season 80 tournament.
"Noong fifth set, binalik namin kung ano 'yung ginawa namin noong first set at saka second set, and 'yung character namin na hindi kami papayag na makuha ng Ateneo 'yung fifth set na 'yun," said Santiago, who finished with 26 points in the victory.
Castillo gave special praise to Santiago, who has emerged as a firmer, more vocal, more decisive leader in her final season with the Lady Bulldogs.
"Nag-e-enjoy ako sa ladies, lalo na kay Jaja, because siya 'yung leader ng team," said Castillo. "Si Jasmin, nakikinig sa kanya. So as long as si Jaja, ganyan ka-positive, ganyan ka-aggressive, Jasmin will stay grounded and work for the team."
Wednesday's win put NU at the top of the league standings. They return to action on Sunday against University of the East (0-2).
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)