The National University Bulldogs not only clinched the top seed in the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Volleyball Final Four, they also exorcised a long-standing demon.
For the first time since Season 76, the Bulldogs outclassed perennial Finals arch-rivals Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
When NU last beat Ateneo in the Season 76 Finals, they still had their vaunted crop of veterans led by Peter Torres. Four seasons removed from their back-to-back titles, NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin was relieved to finally get one over the three-time champs.
“Sabi ko nga, sa wakas. Ang tagal naming pinag-aralan, ang tagal naming pinaghandaan ang laro na ito,” thought the soft-spoken tactician.
“Sabi ko, ito na ‘yung time talaga na may chance kaming manalo sa kanila. Sa ikutan sa first six, medyo lamang kami sa opensa at depensa,” added the enlisted Air Force personnel.
The Bulldogs won out in the crucial moments of the match thanka to late Ateneo errors. By the fourth set, the Bulldogs had worn out the Eagles through steady floor defense and blocking.
Four Bulldogs scored in double-digits, topped by National Team standout Bryan Bagunas’ 19 points. Middle blocker Kim Malabunga and open hitter Madz Gampong added 13 markers, apiece.
NU ended the elimination round with a 12-2 record. They face the winner of the UST-Adamson tiff in the semifinals.
Marck Espejo carried the Ateneo offense with 23 points while Ron Medalla added 14.
Ateneo will enter the Final Four without a twice-to-beat advantage for the first time in the Espejo era. They face the FEU Tamaraws, who beat them twice in the elimination round, in the Final Four.
NU (3) – Bagunas 19, Gampong 13, Malanunga 13, Saura 11, Natividad 8, Ismail 2, Ancheta 0, Marcos (L)
ADMU (1) – Espejo 23, Medalla 14, Njigha 11, Glorioso 8, Baysa 4, Polvorosa 2, Morado 0, Trinidad 0, Sumanguid (L)