THE University of Santo Tomas (UST) Golden Tigresses claimed a key victory over the University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons in three sets, 25-20, 25-21 and 25-16, yesterday to give their Final Four push in UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball further wind.
A battle of University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) teams needing a win to separate themselves from a packed group of squads making a run for the last two playoff spots, UST got the better of UP by being the more in-synch team when push came to shove.
Earlier in the day, the Ateneo Lady Eagles remained on track to finish at the top of the standings by breezing past the University of the East (UE) Lady Warriors, 25-18, 25-12 and 25-10.
First set for UP versus UST was nip-and-tuck, with the two teams going back and forth three-fourths of the way before the Tigresses made a sprint to the finish to win the frame.
Jolted by their first-set collapse, the Lady Maroons came out stronger to open the second, racing to a lead at the first technical knockout.
The Tigresses, however, once again rallied back to first tie the score at 14-all and then went on an 11-7 run to build a two sets-to-none lead.
In the third set, it was UST’s turn to go on a fast start, jumping to a 16-6 lead by the second technical knockout.
The Lady Maroons tried to make a late comeback but the closest they managed to get was 24-16 before the Tigresses surged ahead to clinch the win.
The victory moved UST to 8-5, good for solo third place with a game left in its elimination schedule while UP dropped to 7-6, joint fourth with the National University Lady Bulldogs and Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws.
EJ Laure led three Tigresses in double digits with 15, followed by Sisi Rondina with 14 and Ria Meneses with 10 points.
UP, for its part, had Tots Carlos top-scoring with eight points.
“UP has had our number of late and I’m happy we finally won over them,” said UST coach Kungfu Reyes in the postmatch press conference.
“This win boosted our chances of making it to the Final Four. It’s in our hands and if we can help it we will not allow it to slip away from us,” added the UST coach.
UST next meets NU on Saturday, April 8, while UP battles FEU in a do-or-die match on Wednesday.
Temporarily overtaken by the defending champions and rivals De La Salle Lady Spikers at the top of the heap, Ateneo, meanwhile, pulled even with the Taft-based spikers at 11-2 with a clinical win over UE.
The Lady Eagles were in their element right from the starting gates, building early leads at the start of the first two sets and never looked back.
In the third set, UE showed better footing only to be rebuffed by Ateneo as the early goings wore on.
The Lady Eagles were first to the first technical knockout but the Lady Warriors went on a mini 5-2 run to narrow their gap, 10-8.
The Katipunan-based Lady Eagles would make a 5-0 counterrun of their own to make some separation anew.
Sensing the win was at hand, Ateneo finished in a flurry, rolling past UE, 10-2, to close out things.
The Lady Eagles’ Kat Tolentino led all scorers with 12 points, 11 coming off spikes.
Setter Gia Morado had 26 excellent sets to go along with nine points while Michelle Morente finished with eight.
UE, meanwhile, was paced by Mary Anne Mendrez with six points.
“This is a big win for us. It might have been no bearing since we are in the semifinals and have a twice-to-beat advantage but with Coach Tai [Bundit] there are no no-bearing games,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sherwin Meneses after their win.
“We still want to build consistency as the elimination round comes to a close. This is why we continue to compete,” Ateneo skipper Morado, for her part, said.
Ateneo, incidentally, played sans Jhoana Maraguinot, who was suited for the game but was rested.
The Lady Eagles face off with the Lady Spikers for the top spot in their final elimination round game on Saturday.
UE plays out its final game on Wednesday against the winless Adamson Lady Falcons (0-13).