MANILA, Philippines—For the first time since UAAP Season 75, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws are headed to the men's volleyball finals.
Second-seeded FEU bucked a slow start to overcome third-seeded Ateneo de Manila University, 21-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-22, in the UAAP Season 81 Final 4 on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena to secure their spot in the championship series.
This marks the first time that FEU, still the most successful men's volleyball program in the league, will play for the crown since Season 75 when the Tamaraws lost to National University.
Ateneo, meanwhile, saw its streak of five straight finals appearances come to an end.
The Tamaraws finished the elimination round with an 11-3 win-loss record to arm themselves with a twice-to-beat advantage. In Season 80, they famously squandered that edge against the Marck Espejo-led Blue Eagles, but proved themselves to be the better team this time around as they needed just one game to oust Ateneo in the semifinals.
"Kailangan lang talaga namin i-control ang emotions namin, at kailangan ibalik 'yung timing," said FEU coach Rey Diaz. "Kailangan lang namin ma-handle 'yung every situation."
It was a balanced effort for the Tamaraws. Jude Garcia had 14 points, JP Bugaoan scored 13, and Richard Solis had 12. RJ Paler and Peter Quiel each had 9 points for FEU, which put up 49 attack points and 9 kill blocks.
After falling behind 0-1, the Tamaraws equalized by pouncing on Ateneo's errors in the second set. They claimed a 12-7 advantage and were still ahead, 21-19, before the Blue Eagles mounted a last-ditch comeback. Kills by Chu Njigha and Tony Koyfman, along with an error called on FEU's Richard Solis, allowed Ateneo to knot the game at 22.
But a Koyfman service error and a mishit by Ron Medalla put the Tams at set point, 24-22, before Medalla saved one with an off-the-block hit. In a wild final rally, however, the Blue Eagles committed their 11th error of the set when Medalla overcooked their third ball, handing the Tams the victory.
The Blue Eagles surged to a 5-0 advantage in the third set, before their errors again allowed the Tamaraws to catch up. In a nip-and-tuck game, FEU took a 22-19 lead late, with Koyfman and John Rivera committing back-to-back miscues. Ateneo tried to stay in the game, and was within two points, 22-24, when Bugaoan was called for a net touch. Unfortunately, Sebastian Cuerva committed a service error to start the next rally -- his team's 13th error of the set -- to give FEU a 2-1 set lead.
Now with momentum on their side, the Tamaraws took a 15-9 lead in Set 4, and remained in control despite Ateneo's repeated attempts to rally. They were up 22-18 when they committed two straight miscues -- a poor serve by Solis and a mishit by Bugaoan -- that made it a two-point game. The Tams reached set point, 24-21, off a crosscourt hit by Jude Garcia, before a down-the-line attack by Koyfman kept the Blue Eagles alive.
FEU would not be denied, however, and Garcia slammed the door on Ateneo's comeback attempts with another kill.
"Ibang season na kasi 'to," said Solis after the game. "Hindi namin hahayaan na kung ano nangyari last year, mangyari ulit ngayong season."
"Trabaho lang bawat isa, para hindi mabalik 'yung history na natalo kami last season," said Bugaoan.
Koyfman finished with 21 points and Rivera had 15 for the Blue Eagles, as Ateneo put up 59 kills in the game. However, Ateneo was undone by its unforced errors, as the Blue Eagles committed a whopping 37 miscues in the contest.
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