THE defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers finally broke free from the stranglehold of rivals Ateneo Lady Eagles in UAAP Season 79, taking Game One of their best-of-three finals series yesterday in four sets, 21-25, 29-27, 25-22 and 25-20.
Beaten by their Katipunan-based foes twice already in the ongoing season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the Lady Spikers made sure it would not fall a third straight time to the Lady Eagles in the series opener while moving a step closer to repeating as UAAP champs.
Led by veteran setter Kim Fajardo and Tin Tiamzon, La Salle overcame being a set down and took on the challenge presented it to push Ateneo to the brink.
The first set started engagingly with both teams fashioning out runs and counterruns.
Ateneo beat La Salle to the first technical knockout, 8-6, then took a 16-13 lead by the second set break.
The Lady Eagles sprinted to a 20-16 lead and never relinquished it after to claim the opening set.
La Salle bucked a slow start in the second set, taking the first third of the frame, 8-7.
But Ateneo would go on a 6-5 run to tie the count at 12-all and edge La Salle, 16-15, at the second technical knockout.
The Lady Eagles built a 21-16 lead thereafter but unlike the first set the Lady Spikers would rally back, tying the score at 23-all before outlasting Ateneo to even things at one set apiece.
Boosted by its dig-deep performance in the preceding set, La Salle took control early in the third set, holding a 16-14 edge midway.
Ateneo tied the score at 16-all but it was the last time it would level the score in the frame as La Salle went on a 9-6 run to close out things.
The two teams engaged in a back-and-forth in the early moments of the fourth frame.
La Salle went on a late surge, taking a 23-19 lead thereafter from which Ateneo could not rally back from and slumped to the defeat.
Tiamzon had 15 points, all from spikes, while Kim Dy had 14 and Desiree Cheng 10.
Fajardo had 10 points and 37 excellent sets.
Jhoana Maraguinot, meanwhile, led Ateneo with 16. Followed by Bea De Leon with 14 and Michelle Morente 11.
“We just prepared during the break. The players wanted to win and it showed today,” said La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus after their win.
“They beat us twice in the elimination round. But we wanted to win and defend the title so we really fought hard,” Dy, for her part, said.
“But we will not be over-confident and continue to work,” she added.
Game Two of the finals is on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.