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Fighting Maroons score titanic upset over towering Bulldogs

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Facing a taller, more athletic, and pedigreed opponent, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons persisted.

UP handed the previously undefeated National University Bulldogs a surprising sweep 25-19, 25-20, 31-29 in the UAAP Men’s Volleyball Tournament at the FilOil Flying V Centre earlier today.

The springy Bulldogs started the match stiffly, surrendering numerous errors and looking lost on floor defense. The Maroons capitalized marvelously, building offensive momentum with every NU miscue. UP took an early 8-4 lead which eventually grew to as much as eight, 22-14. NU tried to rally, stringing three attacks to trim the deficit down to five. After a timeout, the Maroons managed to close the set with attacks from Wendel Miguel and a late NU error.

NU looked poise for a turnaround in the second set after taking an early 7-3 advantage. But the Maroons quickly countered, upending NU and taking the lead 8-7 heading into the technical timeout. The Maroons then broke away with a 4-0 run, 12-8, forcing an NU timeout. Rookie James Natividad led a comeback, scoring four straight points to knot the set at 18. The Bulldogs, however, began giving up errors again. Three straight NU giveaways led to a 21-18 UP lead. Through great serving, UP held on to their lead to take the set.

NU controlled much of the third frame as their offense finally clicked. NU’s dynamic playmaking led to a 20-14 lead forcing UP to make an adjustment. Needing an offensive push, UP head coach Rod Palmero subbed in Alfred Valbuena who immediately impacted the match. The team captain scored four straight points that trimmed NU’s lead down to two, 18-20. Valbuena then got a critical ace later in the set that forced a 22-all tie. A close deuce then followed with Natividad and UP’s pair of Consuelo.and Miguel facing off. NU got set point thrice but could not deliver the deciding blow. UP caught a break later as NU’s offense stalled. After an NU attack error, Consuelo served the match-clinching serving ace.

“Ito na ‘yung hinihintay kong performance sa kanila. Buti na lang lumabas na ngayon,” said UP head coach Palmero. “Hopefully ito na rin ‘yung makakapag-spark sa amin papuntang Final Four.”

Miguel led all scorers with 19 points off 16 attacks and three blocks. Niccolo Consuelo finished with 12 markers while Valbuena pitched in eight points.

Natividad led the Bulldogs with 15 points while sophomore Bryan Bagunas managed 12. The Bulldogs totalled 32 errors, 10 more than the usually error-prome Maroons.

Both teams are now locked in the standings with identical 2-1 records. UP’s triumph also ensures that there will be no stepladder in the Final Four.

NU takes on the UST Tigers (1-2) on Wednesday, 8 a.m. at FilOil Flying V Centre. UP has DLSU (1-1) on the same day at 10 a.m.

The Scores

UP (3) – Miguel 19, Consuelo 12, Valbuena 8, Millete 5, Raymundo 3, Acuna 1, Luna 0, San Pascual 0, Baldelovar 0, Nasol (L)

NU (0) – Natividad 15, Bagunas 12, Gampong 9, Malabunga 6, Saura 3, Mangulabnan 1, Ancheta 0, Dayandante , Ogoc 0, Marcos (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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