MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) Defending champion De La Salle University flexed its muscle on Sunday to sweep archrival Ateneo de Manila University, and end the elimination round of UAAP Season 80 on a high note at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In front of a jampacked crowd of over 23,000 fans, the Lady Spikers seized the momentum after a thrilling opening set to secure a 26-24, 25-17, 25-19 triumph.
This marks the first time since Season 76 that La Salle swept the elimination round series against Ateneo. Incidentally, that was also the last season that the Lady Spikers finished as the No. 1 seed in the Final 4.
La Salle has now won eight straight matches, including a seven-game sweep of the second round. The Lady Spikers finished with a 12-2 win-loss record.
"We're treating every game like it's our last," said La Salle star Kianna Dy, who had 13 points to lead her team. "Siyempre, all out na kami. It's now or never every game."
"Ayaw naming pumasok ng semis na talo kami," added skipper Majoy Baron, who scored four of her nine points on kill blocks.
With the result, the Lady Eagles finished the elimination round with a 9-5 win-loss record. They settled for the No. 3 seed, and will face the second-seeded Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws in the Final 4. This is the first time since Season 76 that Ateneo will not have a twice-to-beat edge in the semis.
Desiree Cheng added 12 points, and Tin Tiamzon contributed 11 markers for the Lady Spikers, who finished off their rivals in just an hour and 23 minutes.
La Salle was headed for a comfortable win in the opener after surging ahead, 24-20, off an ace by setter Michelle Cobb. But the Lady Eagles showed some grit, as Jhoana Maraguinot sparked a 4-0 blast with a down-the-line kill. Maraguinot capped the run herself, firing an ace to force a 24-all deadlock.
But it was also Maraguinot who handed La Salle its second set point, when her next serve went way long. The Lady Spikers made most of their second chance with Baron burying a massive kill to wrap up the first frame.
Riding the momentum of their win in the opening set, La Salle cruised to victory in the second frame. They trailed briefly in the third set, as Ateneo raced out to a 12-8 lead, but they quickly regained control, thanks to the hits of Dy and Cheng.
Back-to-back kills by back-up middle blocker Julia Ipac gave the Lady Spikers a 16-15 lead, and they never trailed again as Ateneo ran out of steam.
"No bearing 'yung game (para sa amin), pero gusto lang namin mag-laro ng tama," said Baron after the contest.
The Lady Spikers peppered the Ateneo defense with 42 kills, while also coming up with nine kill blocks. The Lady Eagles received much better this time around, giving up only five aces to La Salle. However, they were unable to get going on offense and managed only 30 attack points.
Kat Tolentino was the lone bright spot for Ateneo with 15 points. Their leading scorer in the season, Maraguinot, was limited to six and found herself repeatedly stifled by La Salle's net defense, while also getting targeted by the Lady Spikers on their serve.
La Salle will play fourth-seeded National University in the Final 4 on Sunday. FEU will battle Ateneo on Saturday. Both matches will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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