MANILA, Philippines—Top seed Ateneo de Manila University will try to punch its ticket to the UAAP Season 81 championship series when its takes on No. 4 Far Eastern University in the Final 4 at Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday.
Game time is at 4 p.m.
The Lady Eagles entered the semifinals as the No. 1 seed after finishing the elimination round with a 12-2 win-loss slate. Thus, Ateneo is armed with a twice-to-beat advantage against the Lady Tamaraws, who wrapped up their elimination round schedule with a 9-5 record.
Ateneo won both of its elimination-round meetings against FEU, but in contrasting fashion.
In the first round, the Lady Tamaraws claimed a two-set lead before Ateneo rallied for a 5-set victory, 14-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-18, 15-12. The second round was a dominant 25-21, 25-10, 25-18 triumph for the Lady Eagles, part of their 10-match winning streak.
Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro said Saturday's match will be a "test of character" for the Lady Eagles, who are eyeing their first UAAP women's volleyball title since Season 77.
"We have a chance now to show our real character. We will work hard, pray hard to show that character and to be back in the finals," said Almadro.
"So FEU is really a good team, considering yung winning tradition nila, yung coaches nila may winning tradition din. So, we have to respect them," he added. "What's important is we acknowledge what they can do."
FEU will be without rookie ace Lycha Ebon, who recently announced that she will sit out the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury.
But the Lady Tamaraws enter the match brimming with confidence, thanks to a stunning upset of defending champion La Salle in their final elimination round game last Sunday. FEU roared back from a 1-2 set deficit, and dominated in the fifth set thanks to fine performances from veterans Heather Guino-o and Jerrili Malabanan.
They will need to get similarly strong outings from their seniors on Saturday against an Ateneo team that has established itself as the best blocking team in the league.
"Siyempre, knowing naman ang Ateneo, powerhouse din naman ang Ateneo. Hindi kami titigil hangga't hindi namin maa-achieve ang goal namin," FEU coach George Pascua said.
"Pagta-trabahuhan pa namin. May mga ipa-polish na lang kami for Ateneo game, hopefully ma-achieve namin."
The match-up is a reversal of last season's final 4, when the second-seeded Lady Tamaraws owned a twice-to-beat edge over the third-seeded Lady Eagles. FEU beat Ateneo in four sets to advance to the finals for the first time in nearly a decade, and in the process ending the Lady Eagles' streak of six consecutive championship appearances.
FEU went on to lose to La Salle in two games in the Season 80 finals.
A second game, if necessary, is on Wednesday at FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
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