MANILA, Philippines – University of Santo Tomas (UST) head coach Kungfu Reyes graciously accepted the result of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball finals, which saw his squad lose in three games to top-seeded Ateneo de Manila University.
The Golden Tigresses drew first blood in the best-of-3 series, but an injury to rookie ace Eya Laure, Ateneo's superb net defense, and the ever increasing pressure of the moment got to them in the next two games.
The Lady Eagles, bannered by a troika of veterans in Maddie Madayag, Bea de Leon, and Kat Tolentino, swept them in the deciding game last Saturday to annex their third women's volleyball crown, and extend UST's title drought for a ninth season.
Reyes congratulated the Lady Eagles following their win, and later said that their triumph was "well-deserved."
"Mga sacrifices nila, si Kat, ilang taon nag-sit out dahil sa injuries. 'Yung level ng attitude at character ng mga beterano nila – sila Bea, Maddie, Kat," he noted.
Reyes noted that when Laure suffered her ankle injury in Game 2, that left them with just one reliable scorer – Season 81 MVP Sisi Rondina. The explosive Cebuana did all she could, but with her teammates unable to pick up the slack, the Golden Tigresses fell short in the closing stretches.
"Sa kanila (Ateneo), the rest, nagko-contribute," said Reyes. "Talagang matured 'yung Ateneo, experienced."
In an interview on "The Score," Reyes specifically mentioned the play that brought Ateneo to championship point – Madayag sending an over-received ball to an empty space, while the UST defense was scrambling.
"Yung tip ni Maddie na 'yun, talagang seasoned player ka bago ka makapag-decide na ganoon, na ilalaglag mo sa likod ng middle blocker talaga," he observed. "Talagang beterano."
The Lady Eagles' advantage in height was also a massive factor, he admitted. Ateneo was the best blocking team in the league at the end of the elimination round, but the Golden Tigresses managed to work around their net defense in Game 1.
In Game 2, however, Ateneo racked up eight kill blocks, while their offense got into gear after a paltry showing in the series opener. Game 3 was a showcase of the Lady Eagles' blocking: they had a whopping 14 kill blocks in just three sets, with Madayag and Jules Samonte each tallying four rejections.
"Hindi mo matatawaran 'yung height talaga. They dominate the net. Kahit anong taas ng talon namin, mas matangkad pa rin sila pag napagod kami," said Reyes. "Ganoon ang labanan."
"Well-deserved ng Ateneo manalo," the coach said again during their appearance on "The Score."
Yet as much as he congratulated the Lady Eagles, Reyes also took pride in how they performed in the finals against the top-seeded team. Heading into the championship series, the Tigresses lost 15 straight matches to Ateneo. Their last win came in the second round of Season 74.
Yet they performed brilliantly in Game 1, anchored by a superb performance from Rondina, and gave Ateneo all it could handle in the next two matches as well.
"Bibigyan namin kayo ng pressure. Hindi kayo basta-basta mananalo na walk in the park," Reyes said of their finals series. "Hindi walk in the park 'yung mangyayari. Tatrabahuhin niyo kami."
UST lost Rondina and Rica Rivera to graduation at the end of Season 81, but will still have Laure and a host of other promising youngsters such as Kecelyn Galdones and Ysa Jimenez next year. They also hope to welcome back former Rookie of the Year EJ Laure, and Fil-Italian Milena Alessandrini.
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