Showing no rust whatsoever after their week-long layoff, the Ateneo Blue Spikers take Game 1 of the best-of-three series of the Men’s Volleyball championship against NU, 25-19, 30-28, 20-25, 25-22 held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon.
The Blue Spikers started the finals with a 5-1 score in the first set with Ysay Marasigan accounting for two attacks. Reception became a problem for NU during that stretch as Villanueva also scored on an easy tip shot. The Bulldogs countered with their own 5-1 blast to tie the game at six with Espejo’s two hits sailing wide, Torres scoring, and Vince Mangulabnan scoring on an easy over.
The Bulldogs led during the first set only twice and only for a short duration at the 7-6 and 11-10 mark. With their floor reception starting to haunt the defending champions once again, Ateneo took charge with Espejo dominating the scoring column in the opening set. As Ateneo led by a precarious 16-15 game during the first set, Ish Rivera also displayed tremendous composure as his hits gave separation between the two squads.
Despite the closely-contested start, the Blue Spikers finished off the opener with an 8-3 rampage as two of the points scored by NU were from Ateneo’s errors. Espejo was lethal late, as he scored half of the points during the run capped by an offspeed shot to close out the first frame.
The Bulldogs found themselves trailing early in the second set at 3-1 with their errors. However, three straight attacks showed signs of life for NU to make it a close encounter. Espejo was checked from the back row by the frontcourt defense of the Bulldogs, as three straight points enabled NU to enter the first technical timeout up by one.
During the middle of the set, Peter Torres started to make noise with four points en route to another entry to the technical timeout with the lead. Furthermore, it was Torres and Espejo that showcased an exchange of points during the entertaining second set. NU started to display better net defense, compared to their opener, as Paglinawan blocked Rivera to give them an 18-15 lead to force Ateneo to call a ceasefire.
A four-point lead erected by the Bulldogs was not enough as Ateneo rallied late with a 4-1 run to tie the set at 22, sealed by a Rivera hit during the rally. Just like the opening set, Espejo played closer with his very crucial points delivered late. Tied at 24, Rex Intal’s spike sailed wide, but he immediately made up for it as he scored on the ensuing play. Peter Torres also delivered late, despite the other NU spikers getting denied by Ateneo’s net defense.
Espejo scored the next three points for Ateneo including an impressive cross-court hit from the back row. Furthermore, NU had their counterattacks to extend the canto multiple times. Rueben Inaudito, however, had crossed the midline that aided Ateneo to take the second set.
The third set went in the way of the NU Bulldogs as it was Ateneo’s turn to commit the detrimental errors during the frame. The lead NU built early in the third set was sustained throughout, and despite short burst of points from Ateneo, the latter’s service errors haunted them when it mattered the most.
Leading by as much as four late in the set, the Bulldogs made sure that the set would be theirs this time around. Jan Paglinawan capped the set victory for NU as the squad committed less errors, 6-11 against Ateneo.
In the fourth set, Espejo once again delivered in the beginning as he bounced back from being checked several times in the third set. The Blue Spikers entered the first technical timeout of the fourth with the lead, as their reception became sharper compared to the previous canto. Two straight over-receptions for NU helped Ateneo’s set on their side gave their spikers the needed play to score.
Ateneo had a five-point cushion at 16-11, and were poised to cruise against the Bulldogs. However, Peter Torres and company had one last rally as they made it a one-point encounter, 18-19. Torres had scored four points in the run, but the momentum did not last. With the reinsertion of Espejo in the front row and Torres being on the back row after rotation, Ateneo took control to finish off the game up by three.
Espejo finished the match with 31 huge points including 28 attacks, while Paglinawan led NU with 15 points, 12 coming from attacks.
Game two of the series will be played on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
ADMU: Espejo 31, Marasigan 22, Rivera J. 9, Villnueva 7, Intal 4, Polvorosa 1, Baysa 1, Rivera B. (L)
NU: Paglinawan 15, Torres 14, Tolentino 11, Inaudito 9, Mangulabnan 3, Capal 1, Ismail 1, Tipay (L)