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UAAP volleyball finals: Ateneo, La Salle duel for all the marbles

Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University -- two schools with storied rivalries -- rekindle their flame of competition. This time in the UAAP volleyball's grandest stage. | File Photo
MANILA, Philippines – Not all good things come in threes. Some of them come in fives.
 
The UAAP Volleyball Finals will have an air of a rubber match to them. The men’s division will pit Ateneo and National University for the third straight year with each school having a championship each. 
 
For the women’s division it’s Ateneo versus La Salle with the former the last two title holders and the latter taking championships in 2012 and 2013 all against each other.
 
Let’s take a look at the match ups starting off with the men’s championship:
 
Ateneo (13-1 elims including two wins over NU)
NU (10-4)
 
The tale of the tape:
 
Ateneo - Best in spiking, serving, setting, receiving, and digging.
NU - Best in blocking
 
I think that Ateneo has a better team this season than the one that won their first title in Season 77. They improved in almost every category offensively and defensively (the dropped though in blocking from third to sixth). This is the second consecutive finals they will face this new-look NU team (with Vince Mangulabnan the only holdover from their previous three teams that made the finals) as they took each other on in the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference that Ateneo won. I think that NU has gained the experience from that as well as this UAAP Season and are highly dangerous even if they lost the two elimination round matches to Ateneo.
 
For the Blue Spikers to win this, they will need players like Ysrael Marasigan, Rex Intal, Joshua Villanueva, and Karl Baysa to pick up their game to help the phenomenal Marck Espejo. They will need to stop Madzlan Gampong to give the Bulldogs some pause and re-think their offense.
 
I thought that in their second round encounter, NU gained a better measure of Ateneo after getting swept in three sets in the first round. In that second round match, the Bulldogs took the first set then battled in the next three although the Blue Eagles won them with some cushion. So I believe that NU is adjusting. It is up to Ateneo to raise the level of their game to repeat.
 
If NU can keep this close then they could steal a game or even maybe the championship. Madzlan Gampong and James Natividad have given the Bulldogs big time scorers to replace their previous high-scoring duo of Edwin Tolentino and Ben Inaudito. They are taller than Ateneo but that hasn’t been a factor; they’ll have to dig and receive better.
 
Let’s now shift over to the women’s championship:
 
Ateneo (12-2 including a second round win over La Salle)
La Salle (13-3 including a first round win over Ateneo)
 
The tale of the tape:

Ateneo - Best in scoring. Second best in blocking, serving, and setting.
La Salle - Best in blocking, serving, setting, and receiving. Second best in scoring.
 
This one is going to be quite a treat and with no disrespect to the men’s championship because this is one where you will also have to observe the battle on the sidelines between one of the best coaches in the country (La Salle’s Ramil De Jesus) with a man who has revolutionized the game in three short years (Ateneo’s Anusorn Bundit).
 
Having said that, it is rightfully so that the best teams in the league will play for the championship. They aren’t only following each other in the standings but also in most statistical categories. Furthermore, there is an air of finality to this as several key players from both sides will graduate after this academic season; players who have seen this great finals rivalry through the years.
 
Now we’ve seen adjustments from both teams. Expect both teams to adjust to one another’s game plans. Ateneo finishing as the top seed doesn’t mean anything at this point. I believe that even during Ateneo’s two championships, La Salle has had better teams and that’s where the Lady Eagles’ mantra of “Heartstrong” comes to play as their trump card. This year, the Lady Spikers have the better team once more. Can Ateneo with a depleted line-up turn the trick a third time? It won’t be easy as head-to-head match-ups aside, this is a series where you can throw out all those stats. This will come down to the following:
 
Whose stars can step up?
 
Who plays better defense?
 
And who gets the jump on the other in Game One?
 
I don’t see this going the distance. It will be over in two. Boy, is this going to be a titanic battle.
 
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