By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE ATENEO Lady Eagles are heading back to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines women’s volleyball tournament finals after defeating the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws in four sets, 25-20, 21-25, 25-23 and 25-14, in their Final Four do-or-die on Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.
Pushed to the limit by FEU in their semifinal pairing, top seed Ateneo made sure no upset would be fashioned out as it had the better of the Lady Tamaraws, riding on its collective experience especially down the stretch.
Ateneo was the steadier team to begin the contest, led by veterans Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon.
The Lady Eagles edged the Lady Tamaraws, 8-7, by the first technical break and then created further separation midway, 16-11.
FEU tried to claw its way back after but had little success as it slumped to the set defeat.
The Lady Tamaraws started the second set with more swing on the lead of graduating player Heather Guino-o. They raced to an 8-3 lead early on.
But the Lady Eagles would not stay down for long as Kat Tolentino started to make her presence felt and spearheaded an Ateneo rally.
They tied the count at 14-all and then seized a 16-14 advantage at the halfway juncture.
FEU though would counter in a big way with setter Kyle Negrito and Jerrilli Malabanan providing the needed jolt.
The Morayta-based Lady Tamaraws pulled even at 18-all and then built a 21-18 advantage.
They would not look back after as they moved on and send the contest to a stalemate with a set apiece.
In the third set, the two teams fought tooth and nail, going on runs and counter-runs.
Ateneo had control of the set in the early goings, holding a 16-12 advantage halfway into the frame but not without serious challenge from FEU.
The Lady Eagles sped to a 24-20 lead in the close out but the Lady Tamaraws did not go down sans a fight, inching their way to within a point, 24-23.
But Ponggay Gaston would save the set for Ateneo with a hit that found an angle near the net to push her team to a 2-1 lead for the match.
Got some momentum heading into the fourth set, Ateneo started like house on fire, soaring to an 8-1 lead by the first technical timeout.
The Lady Tamaraws showed some fight to narrow the gap at 16-10 by the halfway point.
Ateneo, however, had its eyes fixed on the finish line from there, taking every scoring opportunity it could get and connecting to race to a 24-11 lead.
Tolentino put the finishing touches when she punctured in a kill for the winning point.
Tolentino led all scorers with 19 points, 17 of which off kills.
FEU was paced by Malabanan with 18 points. Malabanan, Negrito and Guino-o all played their last game in the UAAP after exhausting their eligibility.
“I’m speechless with the win. FEU put up a good fight and we are just thankful for this win and to be back in the finals,” said Tolentino after their win over FEU.
Ateneo is making it seventh finals appearance in eight years in the UAAP and will face the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses in the best-of-three finals which begin on May 11.