MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Ateneo de Manila University survived a sensational effort from Sisi Rondina to take down University of Santo Tomas (UST) in a five-set thriller, in the process claiming its seventh straight win in the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball tournament.
In front of a raucous crowd at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan on Wednesday, the Lady Eagles clawed their way back from a two-set hole en route to a stunning 19-25, 22-25, 27-25, 25-22, 15-11 triumph.
It was a hard-earned triumph for the Lady Eagles, who had to weather a tremendous 35-point explosion from UST veteran Sisi Rondina to extend their winning streak to seven games, and tighten their grip at the top of the league standings with their 7-1 slate.
Maddie Madayag put together another impressive effort, finishing with 23 points including a whopping 11 blocks -- the most since 2006. Kat Tolentino added 20 markers, including 16 kills, while Bea de Leon scored six of her 11 points off blocks.
"UST really came prepared today," said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro. "But my players, they fought well, and 'yung resiliency nila is really there. I really admire my players because of the trust they're giving me."
"I told them not to give up. It will come -- just be patient, and have fun," he added.
UST, which hasn't beaten Ateneo since 2012, appeared headed for a breakthrough victory after a quick start that saw them take a 20-8 lead. They held off the Lady Eagles to win the first set, and Rondina took charge in the closing stretch of the second frame to tow the Golden Tigresses to a two-set lead.
The Lady Eagles fought back in the third frame, overhauling a 21-19 deficit by winning five of the next six points to reach set point, 24-22. But a pair of faults -- a crossing violation and a rotation fault -- allowed the Golden Tigresses to force a deadlock. UST reached matchpoint, 25-24, after Rondina scored off Ponggay Gaston."
Ateneo's pair of veteran middle blockers would not be denied, however. De Leon knotted the count with a quick kill, and Madayag soundly rejected Rondina in the next rally to put the Lady Eagles at set point anew. De Leon then served an ace to push the match to a fourth set.
"Noong nakuha namin ang third set, sabi namin pinaghirapan na namin ito, so why let it go that easily," said libero Dani Ravena, who came off the bench and contributed 20 excellent digs.
The Lady Eagles' net defense again anchored their win in the fourth set, with Madayag coming through for a clutch block and a quick kill that put them at set point, 24-20. A Dimdim Pacres hit and an error by Jules Samonte kept UST alive, but Tolentino's next hit scraped the tape of the net and bounced off Eya Laure's hands to send the game to a decider.
Neither team could gain control in the fifth set, with UST taking a 9-7 lead only for Tolentino and Madayag to quickly tie up the count once more. An off-the-block hit by Pacres gave UST its last lead, 10-9, before the Lady Eagles finally pulled away.
The rookie Laure, who had also played a tremendous game, sent her serve to the net, and Madayag uncorked her patented running attack to give Ateneo the lead for good, 11-10. Deanna Wong then completed a 1-2 play, before Tolentino scored from the service line for a 13-10 Ateneo advantage.
Rondina broke the silence for UST with another powerful hit, but unfortunately for the Golden Tigresses, their veteran commited back-to-back errors that handed Ateneo the win. First, it was a powerful hit that sailed out, and in the final rally of the match, Rondina's attack hit the antenna.
Ateneo completed the comeback in two hours and 32 minutes.
"I really give this game to UST also," said Almadro. "It just so happens na breaks of the game in the end, nag-favor sa amin."
Laure finished with 21 points, as UST scored 60 points off spikes to Ateneo's 52.
But the Lady Eagles' net defense was simply superb. Ateneo tallied 24 kill blocks in the game, while UST managed 11 -- the same output as Madayag.
Wong finished with 38 excellent sets, while MaFe Galanza had 28 to her name. Rondina also contributed on defense, with 25 digs, while Laure had 15 excellent receptions.
UST, which has now lost to Ateneo for 15 consecutive matches, saw its three-game winning streak come to an end. The Golden Tigresses dropped to 5-3 in the tournament, good for solo third behind defending champion De La Salle University (5-2).
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.