It was a happy Chinese New Year for the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles, who ended a losing streak that has lasted since last season by taking three out of five matches against next-door neighbors the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons, Monday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
UP’s Joana Peña gave the Iska a rousing start in the first singles matchup of the afternoon, edging out Atenean rookie Rocio Climent 6-1 in the opening set. The Atenean managed to take advantage of a worn Peña to take one set for her own and force a tiebreaker, 6-2. But it was Peña who managed to come back strong in set number three, denying her opponent the chance to score and dominating the flow en route to a 6-0 victory.
It was more glory for the Maroons on the other lawn, as the duo of Alexis Borela and Monika Banez disposed of Ateneo youngsters Alexis Mclean and Janna Exconde in three sets, 6-4, 4-6, and 6-1. The more composed UP netters managed to survive an aggressive display by the Ateneans in the first set, before ceding the second one. But the tired and visibly rattled Atenean brigade could not find a way to sustain their momentum in the tiebreaker, eventually giving up the set to the steady-hitting UP duo.
But the tides would begin to change come the second singles matchup between Ateneo’s Khrizelle Sampaton and UP’s CJ Valdez. It was the Atenean who bagged the first set, 6-2, keeping a composed pace to rattle her opponent on the other side of the net. The unruffled Sampaton capitalized on errors by the Maroon to build a 4-2 lead in the second set. However, a tired Sampaton would likewise give up a few more points due to bad serves, giving Valdez the chance to catch up, 4-5. Sampaton, however, managed to get back into the flow and go into the offensive once again to take another point and the match point.
The Ateneo duo of Jana Hernandez and Jana Pages kept the Ateneo push alive in the second doubles match. They took three straight points in the first set before ceding one to Maroons, Dawn Uy and Alexis Velcaria, before regaining their momentum and earning three more points and the set. Not to be disposed of so easily, the UP duo readjusted their pacing to match the steady-handed Eagles’ counterattack, shrugging off another rocky start to get to 4-5, with nine games played. But it was the Eagles who took control soon after, forcing the Maroons into awkward footwork to take a sixth point and the match.
The third singles match between Ateneo’s Shannin Olivarez and UP’s Monica Cortez was the deciding matchup of the day. The seasoned Olivarez used powerful serves and strokes to trouble her opponent Cortez, who struggled throughout the first set to cover her side of the lawn. Both were saddled by errors, but it was the hard-hitting Olivarez who came out on top, 6-2. The second set saw the rattled Cortez continue to struggle to keep up with the offensive-minded Olivarez. The Eagle took six straight points to seal the win, Ateneo’s first in more than a year.
“It just came down to the last game, and it was my girl, Shannin (Olivarez) with her experience, was the key factor to winning the game today,” said Ateneo coach Jen Saret after the game.
“I can’t say much since this has been just our third game but every game is an experience for them and hopefully, come the second round, they’ll get into the mold for the UAAP and really play at their best.”