FOR the sixth straight year, the finals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball tournament will be a blue-and-green affair with the Ateneo Lady Eagles and De La Salle Lady Spikers getting it on, beginning today in Game One of their best-of-three championship series.
Set for 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the top two teams in UAAP Season 79 women’s volleyball try to take an early series advantage and move one step closer to claiming another title.
A championship for the Katipunan-based Lady Eagles take them to three overall and their third in four years while the defending champions Lady Spikers would win their 10th all time and improve them, 4-2, in title series matchups in the last six years against their arch rivals.
Ateneo barged into the finals by surviving a tough challenge from the Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws in the Final Four in four sets. Prior to that, they wound up with the best record at the end of the two-round eliminations with a 12-2 record.
Against FEU in the semifinals, Ateneo banked on a total team effort to get the better of Lady Tamaraws, which started the game slow but made things difficult for the Lady Eagles as the match progressed.
Comebacking Michelle Morente showed the way for Ateneo, which held a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four but saw no need to use it, with 16 points, 12 of which coming off spikes.
Jhoana Maraguinot, who missed their two previous matches, had 14 while Bea De Leon had 12. Setter Jia Morado had 51 excellent sets to go along with five points to help the Lady Eagles to the 25-22, 25-10, 16-25 and 26-24 disposal of the Lady Tamaraws.
The defending champions Lady Spikers, meanwhile, eliminated third-seeded team University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses in four sets as well, 25-14, 25-20, 24-26 and 25-13, in the semifinals. They finished the elimination round at second spot with an 11-3 record.
Majoy Baron had 17 points, 13 from spikes, in the win that also saw Tin Tiamzon, Kim Dy, Kim Fajardo and Desiree Cheng score in double digits. Fajardo also had five service aces and 39 excellent sets to tow their team to a ninth straight UAAP finals appearance.
Both Ateneo and La Salle enter the finals with a relatively new core of players after the graduation of key stalwarts after last season.
They both said that the finals appearance is a testament to them moving on and proving themselves.
“This is a great feeling for the La Salle community. This year, a lot of key players are gone because of graduation and the players really went out and proved that they wanted to go the finals,” said La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus, whose team lost Mika Reyes, Ara Galang and Cyd Demecillo, among others, after Season 78.
For Ateneo’s Morado, being in the finals is a big accomplishment in the post-Alyssa Valdez era.
“After two rounds of elimination play and the Final Four, I think we have already adjusted playing without Ate Ly (Valdez). Of course we miss her hits but I think we have proven that we can play on our own,” said skipper Morado following their win over FEU.
“We are happy to be back in the finals. All the sacrifices and sweat in training have paid off. The work we put in during the eliminations bore fruit,” she added.
This season the Lady Eagles have had the number of the Taft-based spikers, beating the latter in each of their two encounters in the elimination round.
But despite that, the Lady Eagles are looking at their finals rematch with the Lady Spikers as a totally new game.
“The finals is a different game. Each team will give their 100% and anything can happen,” said Morado.