two words – alyssa valdez. this outstanding player steered the ateneo lady eagles to do the improbable! they’ve beaten the mighty de la salle lady spikers last saturday. as boom gonzales and mozzy ravena said, that winner-take-all match was history in the making. had dlsu won, they would have become the first team to win uaap volleyball title in 4 successive years. but that didn’t happen. the other history footnote (and my preferred one) happened– admu won their very first volleyball championship ever since they joined uaap from ncaa. it was also the very first volleyball match aired over abs-cbn. sm moa arena housed a total of 21,134 spectators and i’m pretty sure that the ratings were high. this just goes to show how big the sports have become over the last few years.
as i’ve said, the lady eagles achieved what many have said was impossible. they had to play do-or-die match five times in order to take their first championship home. since dlsu swept the eliminations, they got a thrice to beat advantage and the final four gave way to a step ladder elimination. ateneo had to beat adamson university in their first do-or-die match, sending shiela marie pineda home. they then advanced to another elimination game against the second seeded national university, which also had twice to beat advantage. alyssa and the lady eagles erased this advantage and sent dindin santiago and her team packing. with their two wins against nu, they earned the right to face the undefeated dlsu in the finals. not only does dlsu have beaten ateneo in their two matches this season, they also had a 30 match winning streak and only losing 2 sets (1 to feu and another 1 to nu but ended up winning both matches in 4 sets) in 14 matches played this year. on paper, odds are against ateneo even when they have the top scorer and attacker in valdez.
but all these were reduced to nothing when ateneo beat de la salle three times in the finals. in the first game, ateneo drubbed dlsu in 4 sets, with valdez, michelle morente and amy ahomiro delivering fine kills. this win made the series essentially a best of 3 contest. second game saw dlsu fighting bigger and took the match in 4 sets. at that point, dlsu only needed to win the next game to keep the title, making the third match last wednesday admu’s fourth elimination game. as we all know, ateneo took it in 5 exciting sets, winning the first two and then losing the next two before finally getting the win on an overreaching error from dlsu. the lady spikers even had 2 championship points before folding.
the game last saturday was a winner-take-all match. the two teams were at it at the onset, never letting the other take a big lead. with valdez’ 10 points and more errors from dlsu, the ateneans took the first set, 25-23. in the second set, admu fell behind early and had to rally harder as dlsu took a high of 8 point lead. admu stole the set, 26-24, even when they only had half of dlsu’s 14 successful attack points. in the third set, the score was pretty much even. the momentum of course was with admu having taken the first 2 sets. but dlsu is no stranger to tight championship matches and they kept challenging the blue belles, trying to find ways to go toe-to-toe with each player. i can feel that ateneo didn’t want to repeat the mistake of relaxing similar to what happened in the third match. ateneo finally caught the break, building a 5 point advantage to reach 16 points, from a combo of kills from valdez, morente, ahomiro, de jesus and even morado. dlsu mounted a last ditch effort and with cyd demecillo serving, eroded the margin to 2. an ara galang attack error allowed valdez to finally be in front and this of course turned to ateneo’s advantage, reaching championship point in no time as dlsu committed critical errors (from aby marano no less). a deniece tan dunk ball off alyssa valdez hitting error saved one match point. with dlsu serving at 21, admu had receiving error so morado had to do an underhand set and valdez needed to adlib to get the ball at the back of dlsu’s court. the green team was caught surprised and galang, season 75 mvp, could not get the ball up in the air. ateneo won the championship! admu made dlsu taste its first straight sets loss in a very long time! fantastico!
what a feat they achieved this year. ateneo lost the fab five (fille cainglet, jem ferrer, gretchen ho, dzi gervacio and nacachi) last year, so this year was rebuilding and their goal was just to be in the final four. they had a new coach in anusorn “tai” bundit as roger gorayeb stepped down. add to it the language barrier as coach tai can only manage 2-3 english words in every single huddle. but all these challenges were dealt with “heartstrong” tactic and meditation in between sets. playing happy (and fast) was key to admu’s success this year. alyssa valdez, the league’s mvp and admu team captain, was adjudged as the finals mvp, as well as receiving the best scorer and server awards. she performed really well in the finals series. she averaged more than 20 points in other matches leading to the finals but only had 10 points in their 2 losses against dlsu. but in the finals, alyssa killed, attacked, blocked, digged her way to an average of 19 points! this and her leadership steered other players to perform really well. jia morado, a first year setter, intelligently distributed the lady eagles’ attack. ahomiro made terrific blocks and sharp quicks, while morente were successful in her down the line attacks. de jesus was also not afraid to challenge the tall dlsu blockers, while patnongon and tejada also contributed. den den lazaro (the league’s best digger and receiver) is of course the queen of the floor, with her dogged determination in digging, defending, diving, running and receiving. all good!
looking forward to next year’s battle. this early, i’m already excited to see ateneo defending the title and how valdez, morente, ahomiro, morado, aerieal patnongon, de jesus and marj tejada would embrace the challenge of being the new “one to beat”. galang, mika reyes, demecillo, kim fajardo and desiree cheng would of course try to regain the title (who’ll be their team captain next year?). nu’s jaja santiago, aiko urdas, myla pablo and ivy perez would want to prove that their number 2 seeding was no fluke. with 3 key players graduating, i wonder how adamson’s amanda villanueva, faye guevarra and mylene paat would perform. feu will bank on bernadette pons, gyzelle sy and remy palma and like ust’s pam lastimosa, jessey de leon, loren lantin and mela tunay, would target to be in the final four. i’d love to see ue win some games (excited to see a more mature shaya adorador) but i’d definitely like to see UP’s angeli araneta, nicole tiamzon and the league’s best blocker, katherine bersola, challenge the top teams better.
till next season, volleybolista!