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UST locals show might in stopping Ateneo streak |


UST locals show might in stopping Ateneo streak

- Josiah Israel Albelda, MatchPoint.PH -

By Josiah Israel Albelda

Coming into Game 1 of the Shakey's V-League finals, Ateneo de Manila University looked unstoppable. After all, they were riding on a 10-game winning streak and has virtually bulldozed past all opposition in the tournament.

Jem Ferrer was her usual stellar self in distributing the ball to the Lady Eagles' bevy of spikers and with the way they disposed of NCAA champs University of Perpetual Help System Dalta in the Final Four, there seemed to be no way that anyone can stop them in their quest to complete a back-to-back.

They were up against a University of Santo Tomas side that went through the wringer in eliminating San Sebastian College's one-man army. The Tigresses were tired and weary, and a day before the finals, could not practice like they usually do because typhoon Ambo has rendered their spanking brand new Quadricentennial Pavilion without electricity.

And so it really looked like the perfect buildup to Ateneo's title campaign. Moments before the game, Ferrer was named Best Setter for the third time while teammates Kesinee Lithawat and Denden Lazaro bagged their second Best Blocker and Best Receiver trophies, respectively.

Fans of the Lady Eagles came in droves, matching UST's tiger pack and the Blue Babble Battalion trooped to the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan for the first time this season.

It was all perfect. Only that the Tigresses followed a different script.

They were in it with a mission, one that is not limited to exacting vengeance on Ateneo for beating them in the quarterfinals. It was a goal stamped on the minds of each spiker who don the Black and Gold – keep the winning tradition of the Espana-based squad clean and intact.

UST owns the most championships in the Shakey's V-League with six. Likewise, it is the only team to barge into the finals of each conference it joined. It was a legacy that taught present-day Tigresses to harp on that being their lone advantage against a Lady Eagles side that has been good in basically all aspects of the game.

"Yun (legacy) talaga ang advantage namin," star spiker Maru Banaticla told this writer after they eliminated the Lady Stags late last week. "Mas marami talagang championships ang UST."

When Game 1 fired off, Ateneo fired on all cylinders. Kesinee was brutal with her defense at the net while Alyssa Valdez and Fille Cainglet attacked the Tigresses' blockers and their embattled libero, Dancel Dusaran.

The ploy worked in the first set, with the Lady Eagles burying the Tigresses alive, 25-16.

But the last three sets were altogether different animals for Ateneo. UST regrouped, then heated up, then proved unbeatable as they closed out the win after a Maika Ortiz eruption in the fourth.

The win might have not been possible had Ging Balse, a stalwart from the Tigresses' near past, not provided much-needed spark and energy off the bench for UST.

Riding on a gimpy left knee, Balse dove, dug deep, blocked and even attacked. She roared, she screamed, she shouted at the top of her lungs. She brought the intangibles. She was the inspiration. She was everything the Tigresses needed to rally back from a set down and send the highly-touted Lady Eagles on the brink of defeat.

On a night when Best Attacker Utaiwan Kaensing struggled to find rhythm, UST's locals in Ortiz, Judy Caballejo and Maru Banaticla rose to the occasion, combining for 53 points to offset Utaiwan's pathetic nine-point performance.

Its locals' eruption was just what the doctor ordered for the Tigresses. While Caballejo was consistent from Day One, Ortiz and Banaticla groped for form and had so-so seasons. Balse was injured. The bench hasn't been given enough exposure.

Whether it's an aberration or a sign that UST is ready to go back to the UAAP and do the same damage, one thing's for sure: They are on the verge of a seventh championship, and when it mattered most, the locals did their job.

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