National University began its three-peat quest in the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Volleyball Tournament on a triumphant note, Wednesday.
In their first game without reigning MVP Bryan Bagunas and the reliable troika of Francis Saura, Madz Gampong and Kim Malabunga, the Bulldogs overcame a tough challenge from University of Santo Tomas, 27-25, 23-25, 25-19, 27-25, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Nico Almendras came through for the reigning champions with a double-double performance of 20 points and 14 excellent receptions. Former UE stalwart Ed Camposano opened up his one-and-done year with NU on a high, scoring 19 markers with four coming from blocks.
NU captain James Natividad supplied 11 points while Joshua Retamar ably distributed the wealth with 21 excellent sets.
Despite a stellar showing from his integral cogs, head coach Dante Alinsunurin admitted that the Bulldogs had a slow start because of his new integrated system, as NU took some time cranking up its offensive machine.
“Bago kasi yung naging sistema namin, yung opensa ng UST, tapos ‘yung adjustment namin mabagal,” Alinsunurin said. “Yung first game namin medyo matigas talaga buti na lang nung bandang huli, hats off kami sa depensa namin.”
The Bulldogs needed to get their acts together following a second set collapse. They regained control and did not trail until early in the fourth set when the Tiger Spikers snatched an 8-6 lead.
NU’s precise execution at the net and UST errors allowed the former to lock the count at 16, before stretching it to a 20-16 spread.
UST refused to go down without a fight, leaning on the scoring exploits of Jau Umandal and Wewe Medina to uncork a blistering surge that forged a deuce.
After a trade of crucial blows, Berhashidin Daymil roofed Genesis Redido to buoy NU at match point before Nico Almendras scored a clutch ace to seal the deal.
In the process, the Bulldogs have stretched their winning streak to 17 matches, dating back from last season.
Umandal led all scorers with 25 points for UST in a losing cause. Lorenz Señoron and Medina had 15 and 14 markers, respectively, that went down the drain.