After 53 elimination games and three Final Four matches, the Men’s Volleyball tournament has finally boiled down to two contenders. It’s the final battle for the Ateneo de Manila University and the National University squads. These teams also met last year in the Season 76 finale, in which the Bulldogs ended the match as champions.
On Wednesday, the two universities will square off once more in a best-of-three affair to crown this year’s Season 77 Volleyball kings.
First, we take a flashback at last year’s championship games, and how the Bulldogs capped off their two-peat against Ateneo;
The former top-seeded NU squad finished Season 76 elimination games on top of the standings with a 12-2 record, while Ateneo held an 11-3 slate. The teams split their two elimination games, and found themselves paired up on the finals as they won their respective semifinal matches.
In Game 1, NU finished off Ateneo in straight sets to grab the upper hand in the series. However, as dominating as the 3-0 finish looked, the set scores were close until the Bulldogs won the last two sets only by three points, while taking the first with a score of 29-27.
Days later came Game 2 of the finals, where NU sealed their championship on a 27-25 fourth set win. Ateneo managed to grab the second frame, but the momentum of the later sets shifted towards the Bulldogs. Although another round of tight-knit score sets ensued, NU conquered the match with a thrilling victory.
Season 77 Elimination Round Highlights:
Ateneo had a ten-game winning streak, including two wins from their last season’s finals opponent, the NU Bulldogs. The Blue Spikers 6-1 record during their second round had four wins coming off sweeps, but their streak was snapped on the last elimination game against UST. Nevertheless, Ateneo maintained their first seed spot in the standings, due to the quotient system and the total accumulated points of the Blue Spikers.
The defending champs, National University, did not look like the defending champs in the middle of the 14-round elimination games as they had a stretch, losing four out of five outings. They looked sharp at the start of the season with six straight wins, but lost hold of the top spot and found themselves sliding down the standings. Afterwards, they pulled together and showed signs of their championship form in the wins against La Salle and Adamson, wherein their blocking was outstanding.
The two met in the elimination games twice, and Ateneo came home victorious in both matches. In the first round, Ateneo snapped the unblemished start of NU, 6-0, with a 5-set victory as the Blue Spikers’ duo of Espejo and Marasigan did the late finishing damages. The second round also went to the Katipunan-based squad, who dominated all the set wins by at least seven points compared to the third set escape by NU, 27-25.
Ateneo has yet to bag the Men’s Volleyball crown in the UAAP, as their chances last year were swept by the same school they are about to face this year. But as the cliché goes for sports in general goes, a shot for redemption is always around the corner. This Season 77, they topped the 14-round elimination games, including two wins against NU. The wins could serve as their psychological edge somehow, as they are to prove their worth for last year’s title.
Coming off a quick dismantling against Adamson in their Final Four game, the Blue Eagles are entering the finals bursting with confidence. Losing by a small margin in the entire finals last year might have stung the Blue Spikers, but come Wednesday, they can prove that they can win it this time.
On the other hand, National University played a stellar series against UST. They erased the twice-to-beat disadvantage, and finished UST off in an intensely played match last Saturday to book a date with Ateneo in the finals. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs looked like more like defending champion during the semis compared to their obvious slump in the middle of the season. As they eye their third-straight championship, the only squad standing in their way is the revenge-seeking Ateneo team.
Momentum-wise, no team showed a clear edge over the other as they have romped big wins in their last games. However, in terms of confidence and composure, National University did an outstanding job winning against UST twice, despite the Tigers second spot incentive in the Final Four. Based from their wins, Ateneo needs a strong foundation against the Bulldogs. The Blue Spikers cannot afford a slow start, as NU has proved to show their championship experience and edge late in games.
For the Bulldogs, their experience will be a huge factor in the finals series. They masterfully overcame their midseason slump, erased their disadvantage of being the fourth-seed, and have returned to the volleyball finale. To fulfill their grand slam aspirations, their veterans must be on their best form, and help carry the load for NU.
Throw the stats and standings away, we are about to witness a heavyweight competition between the two schools. One seeks their first title, while the other one hopes to build their dynasty. Ateneo versus NU: Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride!