MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage as they sent National University’s Finals hopes crashing, 25-22, 8-25, 25-19, 25-22, and set a date with De La Salle in the Last Dance of the 76th UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament, Saturday, March 1 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
After tallying in a personal season-high of 29 points in her last outing, there is no stopping for Alyssa Valdez as she emerged once more for the Katipunan-based side, scattering 22 markers from 16 attacks, five blocks and an ace to lead Ateneo to its seventh straight win and book a ticket back to the Finals.
Entering the stepladder semifinal phase with a twice-to-beat handicap, Ateneo displayed resilience and determination as they completed a whimsical turnaround, beating NU three sets to one earlier this week before wrapping up the series with another four-setter against one of the league’s hottest teams in the eliminations.
The Lady Eagles rode on their momentum from their last match as they put an inspired performance this afternoon, keeping the Lady Bulldogs on their toes in the early goings before catching them off guard with a furious late-set rally to win the first frame 25-22.
NU, however, poured in all their frustration in the following set as they set up a demolition job of the Ateneo squad, putting up a stonewall defense and nailing eight blocks on top of eight kills in the second frame alone to even the field at one set apiece, 25-8.
The F. Jhocson crew then tried to keep their guns ablaze but Valdez and Amy Ahomiro were in the right place at the right time for Ateneo, thwarting NU’s retaliation efforts with timely runs and crucial hits to claim the lead once more after the third, 25-19.
Both squads then engaged in a hotly-contested and emotional fourth set battle as Ateneo and NU exchanged hits and blocks but the Lady Eagles pulled away to a 23-18 lead behind the gallant effort of the limping Valdez, who injured her foot midway in the frame but continued playing along the crucial homestretch.
NU skipper Dindin Santiago, however, refused to just bend down when she carried NU to a 3-0 spurt, scoring three unanswered points before Aiko Urdas cut their deficit to just a point, 22-23 but the pressure was too much for the graduating Lady Bulldog as she overcooked a critical service to hand Ateneo a matchpoint.
Valdez then provided the nails to NU’s Season 76 campaign’s coffin, landing the winning hit for 25-22.
Santiago, who along with Mina Aganon and Kuki Salibad failed to extend their collegiate careers into another game, led NU with 19 points. Her sibling Jaja, and Urdas added 14 and 9 respectively for the Lady Bulldogs.
Ateneo, on the other hand, was not just an all-Valdez show as Ella De Jesus pitched in 12 points of her own while Ahomiro and rookie Michelle Morente each finished with nine.
The Lady Eagles will have to go through an even harsher road ahead, though, as De La Salle University – who swept the eliminations and finished atop the table at 14-0 – awaits them with a huge thrice-to-beat edge in the season’s finale that starts on Wednesday, March 5. – Rappler.com
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