MANILA, Philippines—University of Santo Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University look to take another step towards ending their UAAP championship droughts when they face off in Game 1 of the Season 81 women's volleyball finals at Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.
Ateneo last won the UAAP women's volleyball crown in Season 77, when Alyssa Valdez led the Lady Eagles to a perfect 16-0 campaign, capped by a sweep of archrival De La Salle University in the championship series.
UST, meanwhile, last ruled in UAAP Season 72, beating La Salle behind Aiza Maizo, Rhea Dimaculangan, and Angge Tabaquero. The Golden Tigresses returned to the finals in Season 73, but could not pull off a repeat as the Lady Spikers downed them in a rematch.
This is the first time UST and Ateneo are meeting in the women's volleyball finals.
Opening serve is at 4 p.m.
"Umpisa pa lang, talagang (may) firepower ang UST, and they are well-rested," said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro, who led the Lady Eagles to the finals in his first year in charge. " 'Yun ang advantage (nila)."
"We will give them a beautiful game, 'yun ang sa amin," he promised.
Ateneo advanced to the final 4 as the No. 1 seed, but the Lady Eagles were forced to a do-or-die game by a gutsy Far Eastern University team in the semifinals. They eventually powered past the Lady Tamaraws, beating them in 4 sets last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, UST secured the second seed after stunning defending champion De La Salle University in a playoff. The Tigresses then dethroned the Lady Spikers in a thrilling 5-set war in the final 4, ending an 8-year wait for a return to the championship round.
"Malaking experience ito para sa next generation ng team," said UST coach Kungfu Reyes. "Malaking bagay para memorable ang exit nila, na hindi lang puro heartaches ang nangyayari sa amin."
The Tigresses have the benefit of more rest and a longer preparation period, having wrapped up their semifinal series last Sunday, while Ateneo had to play one more game against FEU. The Lady Eagles, however, own a 2-0 head-to-head record against UST in Season 81.
Ateneo won its first-round encounter in 4 sets, before repeating the feat in the second round after rallying past UST for a thrilling 5-set triumph. The Lady Eagles have beaten the Golden Tigresses 14 straight times since the second round of the UAAP Season 74 tournament.
The spotlight will shine brightest on the UST tandem of Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure, who won the top individual awards at the end of the season after their prolific campaigns. Rondina, who is set to win MVP honors, has been exceptional in her final season, leading the league with an average of 17.7 points per game. Laure, meanwhile, has been as good as advertised in her rookie year.
The Lady Eagles will lean on their pair of veteran middle blockers Maddie Madayag and Bea de Leon, who anchor the best net defense in the league. Expected to take charge on offense is Kat Tolentino, who led Ateneo in scoring this season.
Meanwhile, National University and Far Eastern University open their own best-of-3 series for the men's volleyball crown at noon.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.