Will it end tomorrow?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2017 - 12:00am

It won’t be just One Big Fight but Two Big Fights for Ateneo to overcome La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage entering Game 2 of the UAAP senior women’s volleyball finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tomorrow.

After the Lady Spikers’ pulsating four-set victory in Game 1 last Tuesday, Ateneo now has to win two in a row to derail La Salle’s bid for a title repeat. In the double-round eliminations, the Lady Eagles beat La Salle twice – 26-24, 26-24, 21-25, 25-17 in the first encounter then 12-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19 in the second. Ateneo finished the eliminations on top of the ladder with a 12-2 record, the twin losses dealt by NU which failed to make it to the Final Four after losing to UP, FEU and UST to end a harrowing campaign. La Salle wound up second with an 11-3 mark, losing twice to Ateneo and once to UP.

If there’s any team in the UAAP capable of bringing down La Salle twice in a row, it’s Ateneo. After all, the Lady Eagles did it twice in the eliminations. And nobody realizes that danger more than La Salle coach Ramil de Jesus whose job is to prepare the Lady Spikers for the possible clincher in Game 2.

La Salle has won four of the last six UAAP titles and Ateneo, two of the last three. Since season 73 in 2010, only La Salle and Ateneo have won the championship. The streak will now stretch to seven straight years. UST was the last team other than La Salle and Ateneo to capture the crown in Season 72 in 2009. This year marks the sixth consecutive season where La Salle and Ateneo are in the finals.

* * * *

The domination of both schools started in Season 73 in 2010 when La Salle had a thrice-to-beat advantage in the finals and clinched it with Ateneo winning only a four-setter in Game 1. That was the Lady Spikers’ second straight title and seventh overall. The next season, La Salle lost its opening match to UST but went on to engage Ateneo in the best-of-three finals which the Lady Spikers swept. In Season 76, La Salle posted a 14-0 record in the eliminations but blew a thrice-to-beat advantage in the finals as Ateneo, starring Alyssa Valdez, took Games 1, 3 and 4 to end the Taft reign. 

In Season 77, it was Ateneo’s turn to go 14-0 in the eliminations and with Ara Galang suffering an ACL injury in the semifinals, La Salle was blanked in the finals for the Lady Eagles’ second title in a row. Last season’s finals was another classic as La Salle registered a straight-sets win in Game 1, Ateneo roared back to pocket Game 2 behind Valdez’ 34 points then the Lady Spikers closed it out with a four-setter in Game 3. That drew curtains to the outstanding careers of Galang, Valdez, Amy Ahomiro and Mika Reyes.

Last Tuesday’s Game 1 was a barn-burner as La Salle stormed back to win, 21-25, 29-27, 25-22, 25-20. La Salle’s aggressiveness was reflected in scoring more attack points, 51-38. What turned the tide was the Lady Spikers’ refusal to quit in the second set where they survived three set points to escape, 29-27 behind 5-7 setter Kim Fajardo’s heroics. The same determination was evident in the fourth set where La Salle came back from a 15-18 deficit to score six unanswered points on the way to a 10-2 closer. 

Fajardo was matched up against 5-6 Jia Morado and their duel was a thriller.  Fajardo came through with 37 excellent sets and seven of La Salle’s 11 service aces while Morado had 46 excellent sets and four of Ateneo’s 10 service aces.  A key to La Salle’s victory was neutralizing outside hitter Jhoana Maraguinot who connected on only 14 of 48 spikes. Maraguinot is Valdez’ high-flying heiress to the throne and if she plays her A-game, La Salle could be in trouble. 

* * * *

De Jesus got a lot more from his players than Ateneo’s Thai coach Tai Bundit whose mid-game adjustments seemed to lack direction. It’s not in Bundit’s style to dish out instructions during timeouts and he seems content to just remind the Lady Eagles to be “happy, happy” and lead the hands-together cheer with his familiar “one-two-three.” Bundit’s antics on the sidelines also appeared to be distracting. De Jesus, in contrast, was less anxious and more deliberate in his timeout instructions. Surely, Ateneo will make adjustments in Game 2 with the Lady Eagles’ back against the wall. If the Lady Eagles play like the way they dismantled La Salle twice in the eliminations, a winner-take-all Game 3 isn’t a remote possibility.       

In Game 1, Tin Tiamzon and Kim Dy accounted for 27 of La Salle’s 51 spikes while Maraguinot and Mich Morente 25 of Ateneo’s 38, reflecting more balance in the Lady Spikers’ attack. Tiamzon and Dy were credited for 53 percent of La Salle’s spikes compared to 66 percent from Maraguinot and Morente, meaning the attack points were more spread out with the Lady Spikers who also extracted offense from 5-8 Desiree Cheng, 5-9 1/2 Aduke Ogunsaye and 5-11 MVP Majoy Baron. La Salle libero Dawn Macandili stood out with 28 excellent digs and 15 excellent receptions. In Game 2, more is expected from Ateneo’s 6-1 outside hitter Kat Tolentino and 5-11 middle blocker Bea de Leon.

Curiously, four of Ateneo’s players show La Salle roots. Maraguinot and libero/open hitter Jennelle Lo are from La Salle Lipa. Libero Gizelle Tan is from La Salle Bacolod while opposite hitter Joy Samonte is from La Salle Zobel. It’ll be another spectacle in Game 2 tomorrow.

UAAP
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