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Bulldogs stave off Generals, book Finals seat



Drawing another balanced effort from their entire team, the National University (NU) Bulldogs shrugged off the Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) Generals in Game Two of their best-of-three series in four sets 25-19, 25-22, 22-25, 25-22 in the Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference semifinal round presented by PLDT Home Ultera at the FilOil Flying V Arena.

The Bulldogs rushed to a blistering start in the opening set behind sophomores Kim Malabunga and Bryan Bagunas. NU kept a steady three-point wall between them and their foes, but EAC eventually threatened to hijack the set after Howard Mojica capped a scoring run that had his team within a point of NU, 18-19. NU rookie opposite hitter, Madzlan Gampong led a franetic run from the service line that afforded NU five consecutive points and a comfortable 24-18 advantage. Bagunas powered a cut shot past two EAC blockers that gave his team the 1-0 sets lead.

A tighter affair greeted the Bulldogs in the second set as their errors piled up. The UAAP runner-ups however climbed to the lead through powerful wing attacks from Ismail and Gampong. An EAC service error ballooned the NU advantage to four, 11-7, prompting Generals’ coach Rod Palmero to call a timeout. But his quick talk bore no results with the Bulldogs matching every EAC assault. The Generals got their deficit down to as much as three, 16-19, after Hariel Doguna served up some bombs from the service stripe. From there, the Bulldogs traded blows with the Generals who religiously fed the ball to Howard Mojica. NU countered with hits from Ismail and Gampong to take the second frame.

The Bulldogs then admittedly relaxed in the third frame, allowing EAC to build a 13-6 lead after 5-0 rally spearheaded by Doguna’s serving. The Bulldogs slowly chipped away at the deficit, eventually forcing an EAC timeout after Kerth Melliza blew and whiffed an attack, 21-23. EAC got a lift in the following point after NU middle blocker, Francis Saura sent a quickattack wide. Howard Mojica finished the set with a rare running hit with no blockers in front of him, pulling his team to a 2-1 match.

The Generals fought hard in the fourth set but could not match the power and verticality of the young NU squad. EAC forced multiple ties throughout the set but never took the lead in the latter parts. After EAC guest player April Pagtalunan’s block knotted the set at 20, NU replied with back-to-back points highlighted by a Madzlan Gampong attack that flew over two blockers. EAC struggled mightily to score points and force a side out as the points they scored from that point on came from NU errors. Gampong, Malabunga, and Ismail scored the three match-clinching attacks that brought their team to the Finals.

Gampong dished out a team-high 19 points, Bagunas turned in 17 markers, Ismail had 12 while Malabunga chipped in 10 points to round out NU’s balanced assault.

Asked about his team’s chances in the Finals against the dedending UAAP champs, Ateneo, NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin admitted that winning a title was not the priority going in to the tournament. “Bata pa ‘yung mga players ko. Malakas sila maglaro, advanced ‘yung skills, pero kailangan pa talaga nila mahasa sa mga big games,” the Air Force middle blocker said. “Medyo boring pa ‘yung opensa namin ngayo kumpara last year, pero sana pagdating mg UAAP, madagdag na namin ‘yung mga patong sa laro namin,” he added.

NCAA MVP, Mojica fired off 31 points while Hariel Doguna had 11 markers for EAC who will settle for a third place face-pff with the NCBA Wildcats.

The Scores

NU (3) – Gampong 19, Bagunas 17, Ismail 12, Malabunga 10, Saura 8, Mangulabnan 3, Dayandamte 0, Natividad 0, Marcos (L)

EAC (1) – Mojica 31, Doguna 11, Melliza 9, Encina 6, Gerella 4, Pagtalunan 1, Arias 0, Gorospe 0, Mangaring (L)


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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