MANILA – In a rematch between the 12th Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference finals contenders, a lot of spectators were eager to see how the two teams would fare after losing several of their key players due to graduation.
The NU Lady Bulldogs and the Ateneo Lady Eagles duelled in front of excited volleyball fans on Saturday at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan in the 13th Season of the league. But unlike their last meeting a year ago when the defending champions were dethroned by the pesky Lady Bulldogs, the Lady Eagles soared high and proud this time around.
It is no secret that the Lady Eagles have struggled terribly early in the conference, and Ateneo superstar Bea de Leon had an explanation to what happened.
“The first three games, the chemistry was lacking talaga kasi kababalik lang ng karamihan ng players namin, and they are the core of the team, namely, Ana and Mich. Jia was lost there for a couple of days kasi she was really sick. We lost Jhoana also because of her injury. I wasn’t there for the first game.”
“Yun, marami kaming kinapa and maraming adjustments na ginawa in a few weeks,” she continued.
De Leon, who has made a name for herself due to her energy, wits, and heroics for the blue and white, missed the first game due to pain in her lower back. However, she has smoothly reintegrated herself to the team since her return in the match against San Sebastian College, proving to be one of the major contributors of the Lady Eagles both on offensive and defensive end.
Good thing for Ateneo, the rebuilding team of Coach Tai Bundit gelled as a cohesive unit inside the court just in time to save their chances in the tournament. The Katipunan skyscraper recognized how big the win is for the squad.
“It’s a huge boost to our confidence,” she admitted. “NU was our biggest competitor in this bracket, and to win this against them with very little chances coming from the two losses that we had, syempre malaki yung impact nun sa amin.”
With the departure of Alyssa Valdez, Amy Ahomiro, and Mae Tajima, the AB Management Economics junior disclosed that she does not feel the pressure of being one of the team’s seniors now.
“For me, one of the things I like about the team is that we really treat each other as equals, especially inside the court,” said de Leon.
“Wala namang pressure in the ‘stepping up’ thing or whatever, kung senior ka man or whatever,” she continued. “Everybody just knows their role in the team.”
Yet just as in a normal cycle of any collegiate team, when some players depart, new ones arrive. Ateneo found a gem in the person of rookie Jules Samonte.
De Leon was very vocal with how happy she is about the breakout performance of her fellow middle blocker.
“I’m really, really, proud of Jules,” revealed the former Poveda standout. “It’s such a joy to see her play with such sparkle in her eyes.”
De Leon, who is one of the reigning Best Middle Blockers of the Collegiate Conference, also believes that Samonte is such a huge talent for the team. “We all feel na malayo pa ang mararating niya,” she said candidly. “We’re really, really, really, proud of her.”
Ateneo is now set to go up against one of their early tormentors in the conference, the Technological Institute of the Philippines, for a playoff match on Monday. The winner takes the final spot in the semi-final round.
The high flying Lady Eagle shared her thoughts heading to the do-or-die game.
“It’s going to be exciting on Monday,” she said. “Hopefully, we will even improve more from this game. Mind set namin is team work lang talaga like what we did today.”
Yet being competitive and passionate as she is in the taraflex court, the former national team member left this message.
“Definitely, we’re going to come out to win it. Hopefully, we will.”