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Ateneo survives National U in five-set classic to take Game One

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Tiebreaker Times Ateneo survives National U in five-set classic to take Game One ADMU News NU UAAP Volleyball  UAAP Season 79 Men's Volleyball UAAP Season 79 Tony Koyfman Oliver Almadro NU Men's Volleyball Marck Espejo Manuel Sumanguid Ish Polovorosa Fauzi Ismail Dante Alinsunurin Bryan Bagunas Ateneo Men's Volleyball

After coasting through the elimination round, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles took everything the National University Bulldogs dished out and kept their three-peat aspirations alive.

The Blue Eagles absorbed the Bulldogs’ big hits and made all the big plays down the stretch to take Game One of the best-of-three Finals, 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13, at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

NU squandered a golden opportunity in the first set, allowing Ateneo to erase their 11-3 lead. Trailing 20-21, the Blue Eagles went on a rampage sparked by Tony Koyfman, who scored three consecutive points and led Ateneo to a 24-21 lead. Marck Espejo put the finishing touches on the comeback with a thunderous cross-court hit.

The second frame saw NU race to another early lead, 8-3, only for the Blue Eagles to once again rally back. After Ateneo came within one, 18-19, the Bulldogs took their turn mustering a finishing rally thanks to clutch hits from Bryan Bagunas and Fauzi Ismail. After taking a 24-21 advantage, the Bulldogs went to Bagunas to formally tie the match at a set apiece.

Neither team pulled away early in the third set. It took consecutive Ateneo miscommunications for NU to grab a 21-18 lead. Espejo tried to bring his Eagles back, but Ismail responded to his every hit. Down 1-2 in sets for the first time this season, the Blue Eagles dominated the fourth set from the start to force a decider.

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Ateneo nearly had an easy route to the win after sprinting to a 13-8 cushion, but the Bulldogs made a last ditch run thanks to Bagunas’ serving. Tied at 13, the Blue Eagles went to Marck Espejo to notch set point, then pulled a block from Rex Intal to close the match.

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“Great game. I always tell them (Blue Eagles) that NU is a great team, but the minds of the players will make us the champions. The resiliency, and the heart they’re showing, I can’t say anything less for my players,” said Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro.

Three-time MVP Marck Espejo tallied a season-high 29 points, while American opposite hitter Tony Koyfman added 18. Three-time Best Setter Ish Polvorosa tossed 60 excellent sets.

Game Two will be on Saturday, 12 pm, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Fauzi Ismail and Bryan Bagunas powered NU with 22 and 19 points apiece. This is the first time NU went to five sets against Ateneo since Season 77.

The Scores

ADMU (3) – Espejo 29, Koyfman 18, Villanueva 14, Intal 11, Polvorosa 4, Baysa 3, Medalla 2, Glorioso 0, Rivera 0, Sumanguid (L)

NU (2) – Ismail 22, Bagunas 19, Saura 11, Malabunga 10, Natividad 6, Ancheta 0, Dayandante 0, Marcos (L), Sumaguid (L)

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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