MANILA, Philippines - The Year of the Tiger may have commenced two weeks ago, but the University of Santo Tomas (UST) men’s and women’s volleyball teams made sure this event would translate into the playing court.
Riding the momentum they gained in their Game 1 victories, the UST Tigers and Tigresses shut down their Finals rivals to sweep the 72nd UAAP seniors’ volleyball competition amid a jam-packed crowd in the San Juan Arena on Saturday.
True to Tigers’ mentor Emil Lontoc’s goal, the boys from España did not drop a set in the championship series as they edged out the gritty Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, 25-21, 25-17, 25-21 to notch their 3rd straight title and 17th overall.
“Of course, I am happy because our preparations have been fruitful,” said Lontoc.
Harby Ilano and John Paul Torres bankrolled the Tigers’ offense as they chipped in 14 points apiece. But it was Henry Pecaña’s all-around excellence that spelled the difference for the Tigers.
The 4th year player came through with 7 spikes and 2 blocks to earn the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) plum.
“I am overwhelmed and I did not expect this award,” said Pecaña. “Everyone in the team worked hard to get the title.”
Trailing 5-8 in the early goings of the 3rd frame, the Tigers relied on the troika of Ilano, Torres, and Pecaña, who scored through a flurry of quick hits, cross-court shots and combination plays to take the lead, 24-18.
Graduating Tamaraw Joshua Alcarde, however, defined the Morayta-based squad’s last stand as he scored 2 of FEU’s last 3 points. Ilano then ended the game with a quick hit that dropped in zone 6.
Alcarde and veteran Nestor Molate carried the scoring cudgels for FEU as they chalked in 13 and 11 markers, respectively. The two, however, failed to get ample scoring support from their teammates.
While they are still savoring this year’s crown, the Tigers have already set their sights on another goal—a four-peat next season in time for UST’s quadricentennial celebration.
“We will work on sweeping next year’s competition as part of UST’s 400th anniversary,” said Lontoc, whose wards took the title last year by winning all of their 17 games.
Earlier, Andre Joseph Pareja of 3rd placer Ateneo de Manila University took home the Best Spiker and Season MVP plums. Other awardees included De La Salle University’s Chris Macasaet as Best Scorer and Michael Antonio as Rookie of the Year, University of the Philippines’ Lloyd Belgado as Best Blocker and Gerald Magtoto as Best Setter, National University’s Richard Rosero as Best Receiver, and University of the East’s Amenolah Acot as Best Digger.
UST’s graduating skipper, Ray Karl Dimaculangan, won the Best Server award for the 2nd straight year.
Meanwhile, the Tigresses recovered from a 3rd set loss and stood up against a scary 4th frame challenge by the De La Salle Lady Archers as the España-based squad dethroned the defending champions, 25-18, 25-14, 16-25, 25-15.
The Tigresses thus achieved their 14th crown in the league.
“We are extremely happy because we have emerged as champions in every league that we joined this season,” said UST coach Shaq delos Santos, whose wards have conquered the 2 conferences of the Shakey’s V-League and have defeated La Salle in the Unigames last year.
“We dedicate this victory to (former Tigresses’) Coach August (Sta. Maria).”
Graduating player Angeli Tabaquero was the top scorer for the Tigresses with 13 kills, while captain Aiza Maizo added 11 points. Rookies Maruja Banaticla and Denise Santiago also contributed heavily to the UST’s cause as they poured in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The scoring parade, however, would not have been possible if not for the brilliant playmaking of UST setter Rhea Dimaculangan, who was adjudged as the Finals’ MVP.
“I am just so happy,” said Dimaculangan, whose older brother was also named as Finals MVP in the Tigers’ championship run last season. “I did not expect this award.” Earlier, she was declared as Best Server just like her older brother.
After beating the Tigresses convincingly in the 3rd set, the Lady Archers raced to an early 8-3 lead in the 4th frame. UST’s hitters then came to life and staged a 21-5 run after the set’s first technical timeout.
The Tigresses also benefited from the Lady Archers’ 33 errors all throughout the game while limiting their miscues to only 22.
With her team already at match point, 24-13, and the UST fans already euphoric, Tabaquero committed a service error.
La Salle freshman Abigail Maraño then blocked Maizo to keep the Lady Archers alive—but not for long. Seeing limited minutes in the game and the season, Emeli Zuño ended the game anticlimactically as she delivered a service error that went long.
La Salle’s multi-titled mentor, Ramil de Jesus, however, did not offer any excuses for the loss.
“We prepared hard for this game,” de Jesus said. “But UST prepared harder.”
Jacqueline Alarca and Maraño piloted La Salle’s scoring as they registered 10 points apiece. Charleen Cruz, who at some points in the game worked as a setter, and skipper Stephanie Mercado teamed up for 18 markers.
Earlier, FEU Lady Tamaraws’ Cherry May Vivas emerged as the Best Scorer and Season MVP. Other awardees included Ateneo’s Jem Ferrer as Best Setter, Adamson University’s Paulina Soriano as Best Attacker and Lizlee Ann Gata as Best Digger and Best Receiver.
The Lady Archers’ sensational neophyte, Joanne Siy, took home the Best Blocker and Rookie of the Year trophies. - by Ivan Angelo de Lara
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