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4 points from Ateneo's 3-set sweep over UST

MANILA, Philippines – There were questions about the Ateneo Lady Eagles heading into their second round match versus UST. The sudden injury to middle hitter/blocker Maddie Madayag is a huge loss for the two-time defending champions. However, adversity is something this team is used to.

Two years ago, their libero Denden Lazaro got injured. Last season, Bea De Leon and Aerieal Patnongon also got injured. Although all three came back to play, this is the first time the team has lost someone for the remainder of the season. When you think about it, that’s two they lost.

Katrina Tolentino got injured during the team’s first match of the collegiate conference of the Shakey’s V-League season. And Michelle Morente was knocked out on account of academics. So technically, that’s two out because of knee injuries and one due to studies. Two are key players while one is an up-and-coming one.

Even before the start of Season 78, the Ateneo Lady Eagles were dealt a bad hand.

It makes it harder but when has something worthwhile been easy? It never is.

They haven’t played that intense since their opening day against NU.

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My gripe this year is that the team has lacked that killer instinct. Last season, they simply inflicted one beating after another on foes. This year, because Ateneo isn’t as good defensively – they haven’t looked sharp. There are stretches where they are back to their devastating selves but never for an entire game, maybe except against UE but come on. That’s UE! You’re expected to do that against a team that has been winless in the past four seasons.

Of course, a lot of other teams have leveled up. But that isn’t the point. It’s about intensity.

Following the consecutive losses to La Salle and UP, I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t throttle fragile NU from the start of the match.

Against UST, they stepped on the gas pedal and mostly never took their foot off. And for the first time this season, those devastating serves were back. They were better defensively. And they also played Cherry Rondina much better than their first meeting.

Defensively, they were so much better. Eight huge block points against UST? And UST is rated higher defensively than Ateneo. They received and dug much better as well this time around.

Jia Morado is bringing it.

After Maddie went down, Jia Morado was thinking of her offensive options. But good and smart players find ways. For the third consecutive match, Morado had over 30 excellent sets.

33 NU

37 FEU

31 UST

She had 27 in the losing effort against UP.

The balance in the scoring with three players in double figures is just as much a testament to her diversifying the offense. Since she joined the team in Season 76, she’s played with a lot of composure and a degree of level-headedness. Against a tough and dangerous UST team, she showed how huge a part she is in Anusorn Bundit’s schemes.

Two key moves: Kim Gequillana returned to the starting lineup while Amy Ahomiro slid back into to occupy Maddie Madayag’s spot.

When Jhoana Maraguinot finally got to play last season, it was Kim Gequillana who sort of lost playing time. There was the main weapon in Alyssa Valdez with Bea De Leon, Amy Ahomiro, Morente, and Maraguinot who provided able support. Gequillana became a bit play. A tactical substitution if you will.

In Season 77, after a bit, Maraguinot began to start over Morente who became inconsistent. Maybe this is that time of the year…. Gequillana came in and served and received well. With more minutes, figure her to contribute more.

This past season, it was Ahomiro who has been rather quiet. To make room for the vastly improved Madayag, she went to a utility position. While she played that part under Roger Gorayeb, that was a different Amy as she lacked confidence and conviction. The version of the past two and a half years is one who is fully confident in what she can do. Sliding her into the middle was as natural as anything.

They played like they did during Season 77.

Yes, they did. Smiling. Happy. Just focused on the game without having to answer taunts. The back-to-back losses were painful but they sure were wake up calls. Of course, this season isn’t over by a long shot.

The win over UST gave them that first semifinals slot and the schedule is rather kind to them over the next couple of weeks — faltering Adamson and luckless UE with dangerous La Salle to close out the elimination round. This doesn’t mean they should take Adamson and UE lightly.

But for now, losses and injuries aside, it was a big win and an even bigger response to the challenges. And they have something to smile about.

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