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Ateneo fends off scrappy NCBA, keeps perfect record

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The Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles shook off a slow start and thwarted the upset-hungry National College of Business and Arts (NCBA) Wildcats 31-33, 25-18, 25-12, 25-21 at the Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference presented by PLDT Home Ultera at the FilOil Flying V Arena.

Ateneo clutched a slim two-point lead throughout the opening set with NCBA keeping pace through nifty plays finished by guest player Reyson Fuentes and PJ Domingo. The Wildcats eventually closed in, coming back from a 22-24 deficit to force a deuce. Neither team relinquished control as both sides fired off a powerful smashes. But, in the end, back-to-back errors from the Eagles placed them behind, 0-1.

The following sets, however, were less eventful with Ateneo unleashing their full fury to bury NCBA right from the first point. Two-time UAAP MVP, Marck Espejo unfurled a game-high 23 points off a hyper-efficient 17 for 23 attacking clip. Espejo also added four aces and two blocks to his tally. Middle blocker, Josh Villanueva added 14 points, Rex Intal threw in 12 while Ysay Marasigan nabbed 11 points.

The Blue Eagles, overall, outperformed NCBA in all offensive categories – firing in more attacks (56-41), dishing out more block kills (8-6), and accruing more aces (6-2) – while piling up a staggering 29 digs and 23 excellent receptions. Ateneo’s usual starting setter, Ish Polvorosa sat out much of the first set but played through his sprained ankle. The reigning UAAP Best Setter tossed up 24 excellent sets.

“Mahirap din maiwasan na mag-relax ‘yung players. Kaya, as a coach, we try to always to remind them to avoid relaxing or mediocrity as much as possible,” said Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro whose team won all of its matches since the UAAP Final Four.

Former NU Bulldog, Reyson Fuentes led the NCBA Wildcats with 16 points while opposite hitter, PJ Domingo contributed 12 markers.

Ateneo’s 6-0 carry-over record leads the tournament as they have won all of their eight matches so far in the league. NCBA, who came off a morale-boosting, five-set triumph over the DLSU Green Spikers, drop to 2-3 after today’s loss and are in danger of falling out of the tournament.

In their final match of the round, Ateneo will figure in a UAAP Finals rematch with the undefeated NU Bulldogs on August 31, Monday. When asked about the matchup, Coach Oliver expressed that proper preparation will be pivotal for both sides.

“Kailangan talaga namin sila paghandaan. Almost all the top recruits nakahua nila the past two years so they’re going to be tough,” Almadro, the former NU head coach, quipped. Almadro recruited and initially coached the core that got NU back-to-back titles in UAAP 75 and 76.

NCBA collides with CSB on Wednesday, August 26 then closes out the semis against the UP Fighting Maroons on Wednesday, September 2.

The Scores:

ADMU (3) – Espejo 23, Villanueva 14, Intal 12, Marasigan 11, Medalla 6, Baysa 1, Koyfman 1, Glorioso 1, Polvorosa 1, Rivera 0, Magadia 0, Sto. Tomas 0, Sumanguid (L)

NCBA (1) – Fuentes 16, Domingo 12, Canlas J. 10, Canlas E. 6, Nidua 4, Oclima Cj 1, Vicente 0, Nullar 0, Oclima R. 0, Ugoy 0, Escobido (L)

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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