The UAAP season 77 women's volleyball tournament champions, the Ateneo De Manila University. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Ateneo Lady Eagles completed one of the most dominant campaigns in recent UAAP women's volleyball history by sweeping rivals De La Salle Lady Spikers in Game 2 of the Season 77 Finals to secure a second straight championship Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In front of a crowd of 20,705 fans, Ateneo weathered a tough challenge from the Lady Spikers to take Game 2, 25-22, 25-17, and 25-23 to finish the UAAP Season 77 women's volleyball tournament with a perfect 16-0 win-loss record.
The last UAAP team to finish with a perfect record was La Salle in 2004, who finished 14-0 and was awarded the outright championship.
Two-time Most Valuable Player Alyssa Valdez was again the rock for Ateneo, scoring 20 points on 19 attacks, but she got plenty of help from her teammates as Michelle Morente, Bea de Leon, and Amy Ahomiro all scored 10 points.
"Every championship since high school, sobrang iba 'yung feeling, sobrang sarap sa pakiramdam, but this championship, iba talaga," said Valdez.
Ahomiro anchored the Lady Eagles' net defense and was later named Finals MVP.
"I'm pretty much speechless. I'm so shocked and I'm so blessed to have this opportunity," said Ahomiro, who credited Ateneo's charismatic head coach Tai Bundit for giving them the confidence and strength throughout the season.
"Last year, he just gave us confidence, and this year, we were as one. We were on the same page the whole time," she said.
MORADO COMES UP BIG
It was sophomore setter Julia Morado who came up with the biggest hits of the day to hold off the Lady Spikers' rally in the third frame.
After Ateneo took a 23-20 lead, La Salle closed the gap to one point, 22-23, thanks to a kill from Desiree Cheng and a block by Mary Joy Baron on Valdez.
Morado, showing nerves of steel, proceeded to score on the second touch to bring Ateneo to championship point, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The celebration was temporarily stalled when Ahomiro's service went long, but off a serve from Baron, Morado again scored on a drop ball on the second touch to finish off La Salle.
"You never know what to expect from Jia. She's a great player," said Ahomiro.
"Hindi rin kami ang nagdala sa team, si Jia talaga, kasi siya ang nagd-distribute ng bola. Great game from Jia today. She was amazing," added Valdez.
Morado, who earlier was named Best Setter of the tournament, finished the game with six points to go along with 32 excellent sets.
The Lady Eagles pounced on La Salle's shaky reception to register 11 service aces, and once again were sensational on offense as they racked up 45 points on their attacks.
La Salle, playing without injured team captain Ara Galang and reserve Camille Cruz, fought bravely in the first and third sets and kept those frames close thanks to their net defense, but their reception and floor defense betrayed them at the worst possible times.
No DLSU player scored in double digits, with Baron tallying nine points and veteran Mika Reyes adding eight. The Lady Spikers only scored 26 points off attacks. Twenty-three unforced errors from Ateneo helped them keep the game close in the first and third sets.
Ateneo got off to a shaky start in the opening set thanks in part to La Salle's blocks, which allowed the Lady Spikers to lead by as much as three points, 12-9, at one point.
"La Salle is La Salle," Valdez pointed out. "Kahit anong mangyayari, sobrang ganda ng foundation nila as a team, so definitely, lalaban sila."
The Lady Eagles pulled away late, taking a 23-19 advantage thanks in part to the sensational serves of Michelle Morente. But two errors by Ateneo – including a hitting error by Valdez – allowed La Salle to cut the lead to one point, 22-23.
Ateneo was the more stable team, however, with Morado winning a joust and then setting up Valdez for a down-the-line kill that allowed them to win the opening set.
The second set was a more straightforward affair as the Lady Eagles raced to a 16-9 lead and never looked back, taking a comfortable 25-17 victory.
Facing a do-or-die situation, the Lady Spikers showed great heart in the third set, even taking a 10-5 lead at one point while getting solid contributions from Reyes and reserve Carol Cerveza. It was a lucky ace by Cerveza, whose serve caught the tape of the net and bounced off the arms of Ateneo libero Denden Lazaro, that gave La Salle its largest lead of the game.
But Ateneo slowly chipped away at the lead, eventually taking a 17-14 lead off a block by De Leon on Baron. The Lady Eagles maintained their lead until Baron's block of Valdez, setting up Morado's two spectacular drop shots to finish off the game.
Both Valdez and Ahomiro were stunned to discover that the Lady Eagles had made history with their 16-0 record.
"Kasi number ni Kiwi (Ahomiro) 'yun, kaya Finals MVP s'ya," Valdez joked, referring to Ahomiro's jersey number 16.
"We definitely worked hard for it, but all the other teams worked hard, too. It's a weird feeling," said Ahomiro. "Undefeated."
Valdez was gracious in victory, saying the Lady Eagles simply "did our best today." "We're really lucky na we got it in straight sets," she said. "Everyone played well talaga, even La Salle fought really well today."
Valdez was highly complimentary of the Lady Spikers, who fought their hearts out even after seeing two players go down to injury – including captain and leading scorer Galang, who could only bury her face in her hands in the La Salle bench as Ateneo inched closer and closer to the crown.
"Si Ara, alam natin na makakagawa siya ng point. Go-to girl siya ng La Salle, and definitely, 'yung leadership din, nakulangan," said Valdez. "Si (La Salle setter) Kim (Fajardo), halos lahat bata ang gina-guide ni Kim inside the court."
"Ara definitely would be a great part if she was there. Sobrang iba ang impact niya, so definitely magiging iba din 'yung game," she added.
The Lady Eagles, who also won Game 1 in straight sets, showed little rust or complacency in the brief Finals series and showed remarkable composure and poise in making a successful defense of the title.
"This year, may pressure kami hindi lang from the coaching staff. Kahit sa sarili na rin namin, kasi gusto naming i-prove na kaya talaga namin," said Valdez.
"'Yun lang 'yung differences siguro. Iba 'yung sarap last year, iba 'yung sarap this year. But 'yung sa amin talaga, kaya s'ya masaya kasi tulong-tulong kami. Andoon 'yung teamwork namin," she added.
"We play as a team, and we really enjoy the game, kaya sobrang saya talaga."