You know a team’s good when their loss is treated as something of a national spectacle.
The other day, the Ateneo De Manila University Lady Eagles, the most dominant local volleyball team today, dropped their first game in over year to the University of Sto. Tomas Tigresses to force a do-or-die match on Wednesday to get into the Shakey’s V-League Finals.
That was the first time the Lady Eagles lost to a collegiate team since last year’s Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference, where they lost to the UST Growling Tigresses, that time in straight sets.
For their part, Ateneo played marvelously in the opening set and looked to be on their way to a routine Lady Eagles sweep with all the happy, heartstrong goodness we’ve gotten used to over the years.
But then, UST pushed back and the Ladies from Loyola struggled to reply. A glimpse into the stats sheet wouldn’t do UST’s fight back justice. The Tigresses severely outplayed the Lady Eagles.
The Tomasinas’ floor defense, a usual thorn to the Tigresses’ attack, produced exemplary results. They controlled Ateneo’s serves and hustled to cover Ateneo’s slippery attacks. “Although nagco-commit kami ng error, ang importante, ‘yung first ball na gusto namin mangyari, nangyayari. Hindi man ganun kaganda, pero huwag naman sana diretso sa sahig or tapon sa labas,” said UST Head Coach Kungfu Reyes. “Ang aim lang namin – itaas namin ‘yung bola, ire-ready lang namin ‘yung spikers namin. Kahit na wala kaming backrow attack, gumana naman ‘yung wing namin. At ang laking tulong naman nung middle namin sa block.”
Most commendable, however, was how UST fought off the furious Ateneo comebacks throughout the match. Multiple teams had dragged them to the brink of a loss, but none had delivered the killing blow in end-game scenarios.
In the first round of this tournament, CSB had Ateneo in a 0-2 hole but couldn’t stop Alyssa Valdez from blowing them back in the final three sets. In UAAP 77, La Salle, Adamson, and UP drove the Lady Eagles to five sets only to run out of juice in the deciding frame.
UST could have easily lost composure after Ateneo kept nibbling at their advantage. In a pivotal third set, the Lady Eagles erased a 16-22 deficit and hijacked the lead, 23-22. Luckily, Mela Tunay stopped the bleeding after a timeout setting the stage for Jessey De Leon and Sarah Verutiao to end the set on a block then an ace. Ej Laure then placed her team at match point relatively early in the following frame, 24-18, off a solo 5-0 run. Valdez then gave the Lady Eagles a glimmer of hope, scoring the next four points. Tunay then ended the match, finishing a combination play.
This season has been a golden learning experience for the España side. That final point, for instance, could have very well been a product of an incident earlier in the season that cost Tunay a broken nose.
UST was up 24-22 in the clinching set against a floundering TIP side. The Lady Engineers fought back and forced another set. In the deuce leading up to the fourth set, Tunay’s face collided with Pam Lastimosa as they were both going for a pancake on a loose ball. Tunay broke her nose, causing her to miss a few games. Had they ended the match, Tunay could’ve avoided a lot of pain.
Perhaps the fifth-year spiker had that in mind as she went up for the game-winning point. UST has had problems closing out matches the entire tournament. Repelling Ateneo should bolster their confidence not only for the next match but for their following UAAP campaign. For a program with multiple titles under its belt, UST has been out of the Final Four for far too long.
“Kapit pa kasi sa end game kami nadadali eh. Nag momentum lang kami kaya nakuha namin. At least nakabalik kami. Every time na timeout ‘yun ang advice ko. Tumahimik muna kayo, compose niyo muna sarili niyo, uminom kayo ng tubig then pag-uusapan natin. Consistency, serve, block, receive, attack. Swerte lang,” Reyes told.
Perhaps, Reyes is right. Maybe his Tigresses just caught a few breaks that Ateneo usually doesn’t surrender. After all, the often steady Ateneo back-line coughed up 12 aces which allowed UST to match them spike-for-spike with 49 apiece.
After all, the match was both team’s second in as many days and Alyssa Valdez admitted that her team has been having problems with fatigue lately. Yes, most of the Lady Eagles have international experience but that doesn’t go for the entire team and that doesn’t account for how well UST played despite the lack of rest days.
“They played inspired and they really worked as a team. Maganda lahat, service nila, blocking, lahat ng aspect actually, lahat ng aspect sobrang nag work sila together,” Ateneo team captain, Alyssa Valdez said when asked about how their foes played.
It’ll be interesting to see how Ateneo head coach, Tai Bundit chooses to deal with the loss. The former Thailand youth team coach has a reputation for holding brutal training sessions especially after losses or unconvincing wins. Will coach Tai put his team through the ringer or will he opt to give his players the time to recover and deal with their illnesses before Wednesday?
Regardless, we should expect a determined Ateneo side on Wednesday. The team’s veteran core has been through too many do-or-die games to just let UST slip by. And, although it goes unnoticed behind her smiles and jittery jumps, Alyssa Valdez hates to lose and she probably takes it harder than anyone. Expect the best player in the country to carry her team as she always has.
Game Two was a watershed moment for both teams. UST got the pivotal character-building win they’ve been searching for in the tournament and showed everybody else that the Lady Eagles aren’t invincible.
Although Ateneo played without a few veteran pieces, they have just as must of a chance to build off the loss and move forward. At least, the burden of being undefeated is off their back.
UST handed a seemingly invincible La Salle side a loss to start off their UAAP 75 campaign. The Lady Spikers then went on to demolish everyone in the league en route to another title.
Will UST avert another event such as this, or Ateneo will do the same?
Rival coaches agree: Ramil de Jesus should coach National Team
Tyrus Hill, Kurt Lojera transfer to La Salle
Lady Eagles survive Golden Tigresses to clinch Final Four spot
Ateneo taking costly UP loss in stride
Jesus, take the wheel: Espejo saves Ateneo’s season
Christian Standhardinger’s arrival excites Leo Austria: ‘Very flexible yung team namin ngayon’
San Beda reloads for upcoming campaign and the future
Christian Standhardinger tempers expectations for upcoming San Miguel campaign
- ADMU3 days ago
Wendel Comboy, FEU rally from 17 down to stun Ateneo; Jun Manzo, UP hold off Letran
- Basketball5 days ago
Ricci Rivero still uncertain about collegiate career
- Basketball5 days ago
Kobe Paras attends first practice; Kiefer Ravena watches on the sidelines
- News3 days ago
Rod Roque accompanies ‘nervous’ Kath Arado to tryout