Ateneo exacts revenge over arch-rival La Salle to stay on top of standings

(Photos by Richard Esguerra/Sports Gateway PH)

MANILA – The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles finished the double round-robin eliminations of UAAP Season 78 with a win against the De La Salle University Lady Spikers in a five-set thriller, 21-25, 25-22, 25-16, 21-25, 15-5.

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Both Ateneo and La Salle lived up to the hype in front of the 19,266 crowd in attendance at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday as they showed why the second round rematch of one the most storied rivalries in Philippine sports was very much-anticipated by volleyball fans despite the fact that both teams have secured a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

Ateneo skipper Alyssa Valdez said, “Every game naman is important, bearing or non-bearing. For an athlete, kailangan naming makuha yung confidence namin. Yung timing, yung tempo ng team. Yung rhythm.”

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The DLSU Lady Spikers picked up where they left off in the first round duel when they set up a 24-15 early lead in the first set. The Lady Eagles then mounted an uprising led by middle hitter Bea de Leon to trim the lead to three points before the Lady Spikers won the set. De Leon tallied 13 points for Ateneo.

It was a tighter game in the second set as both teams exchanged point after point and recorded several draws and lead changes. However, with better floor defense by the team and excellent ball distribution by reigning Best Setter Jia Morado, Ateneo bagged its first won set of the match.

Despite the aggressive play of La Salle’s Majoy Baron and Kim Dy, who finished with 15 and 11 points respectively, the Lady Eagles pulled away to secure another win in the third set behind the combined effort of de Leon, Kim Gequillana and Jhoana Maraguinot. Last year’s Finals Most Valuable Player Amy Ahomiro, who is back in her natural position as a middle hitter, also had timely contribution at the net.

La Salle rising star Kim Dy made a run of her own in the crucial stretch of the fourth set to secure a safe lead for the Lady Spikers. The formidable wall of the Taft-based squad, as well as its very steady floor defense led by defensive ace Dawn Macandili, proved vital to push the game to a winner-takes-all fifth set.

Yet in the final set, the Lady Eagles dismantled the Lady Spikers when Alyssa Valdez showed her lethal MVP form. Valdez top-scored all players with 24 points in 20 attacks, one block, and three service aces. She also tallied 19 excellent digs.

However, the reigning Season MVP deflected credit. “When I saw my teammates, each of them, sa eyes nila they’re inspired to play. They really want to play today. Eh kung ikaw ganun yung teammates, syempre ikaw you’re gonna your best also,” said Valdez.

She added, “We really played happy today. We really smiled today, inside and outside of the court.”

Meanwhile, the Best Setter race just got tighter as La Salle skipper Kim Fajardo and Ateneo mainstay Jia Morado both executed their respective teams’ offense masterfully. Fajardo finished with 61 excellent sets, while Morado recorded 62 excellent sets.

Ara Galang led the Lady Spikers in scoring with 20 points.

The Lady Eagles ended the elimination round in first place with the win over the Lady Spikers. They now await their Final Four counterpart between the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons and the National University Lady Bulldogs.