'Tested' Ateneo Lady Eagles aim for twice-to-beat advantage
MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Lady Eagles were tested to their limits in their 5-set game on Sunday, March 25, against the Adamson Lady Falcons.
If Adamson had won the match, they would have been tied with first round leaders National University Lady Bulldogs at 6-5, which would have bolstered their bid for a Final 4 appearance.
The Lady Falcons were so close to sealing the win, but things changed when Adamson captain Jema Galanza took the match point, 24-22. The Ateneo Lady Eagles relied on their self-confidence and head coach Anusorn "Tai" Bundit's "happy, happy" mantra which saw Jho Maraguinot's attack spark the crucial 4-0 run that drove the match to a deciding set.
"Every time kasi Coach Tai calls a timeout, he just says na [we have to be] happy, kailangan lang we just have to play happy kasi if we don't we're gonna lose talaga," said emotional Ateneo captain Maddie Madayag.
(Every time Coach Tai calls a timeout, he just says that [we have to be] happy, we just need to play happy because if we don't, we're really gonna lose.)
From the time that they pushed it to the 5th set, Ateneo knew they could defeat Adamson again.
The 5th set became a test of fortitude and character, with Ateneo eventually edging out Adamson even if the Lady Falcons were able to tie the game at 11-all.
"We really believed in that 5th set. I could see everyone... they really knew that [we were] gonna win... There [was] no other option for us in that 5th set after all that we went through and those 4 sets before," explained Kat Tolentino.
"We [couldn't] just let up, I knew we [could] do it."
For a young team like Ateneo, it was as if they crossed another bridge that would make their team stronger. With Sunday's victory, the Lady Eagles nabbed their 9th straight playoffs spot and are now looking to make it to the Final 4, and eventually, the finals.
"That's what really makes the team eh, like example, we go through challenges and that's how they build you as a team talaga. That's why I guess this is a really great experience for the team especially na tinetest nga 'yung character namin, 'yung skills namin, 'yung tatag ng loob namin.... It's a really good experience," said Madayag.
(That's what really makes a team, like example, we go through challenges and that's how they really build you as a team. That's why I guess this is a really great experience for the team especially that they are testing our character, our skills, our resilience.... It's a really good experience.)
Aside from the playoffs spot, Ateneo setter Deanna Wong also achieved a career-high of 63 excellent sets while chipping in 6 points plus 3 blocks from taking charge of the net.
Wong knew that Adamson had figured out Ateneo's weakness in receptions. With the experience of being the Lady Eagles' libero in Season 79, Wong was determined to make sure the ball stayed alive despite the lack of a good first ball.
"Actually hindi ko napapansin or I really don't mind. All I really [think] sa head ko lang is how I can chase the ball, how I can set the ball kahit misreceive.... It's a good thing but it's better talaga if we win, kahit anong number 'yan hindi naman 'yan magma-matter if we lose," said Wong.
(Actually I didn't really notice or I really don't mind. All I really think in my head is how I can chase the ball, how I can set the ball even though it was a misreceive.... It's a good thing but it's really better if we win because whatever the number was, it wouldn't have mattered if we lost.)
The next stop for the Lady Eagles is the twice-to-beat advantage that will be awarded to the top two teams of the league.
"We may have clinched the playoff spot but our goal is the top two or the top one, so importante talaga ang twice-to-beat advantage (the twice-to-beat advantage is really important)," said Wong.
Even with the Holy Week break, it's still everyday training for the Ateneo Lady Eagles, making them the only team that will not be taking a break from the grind. The Lady Eagles are determined to continue their winning ways as they haven't lost this second round.
"We're going to train. We don't have school, so we're going to focus more on training and really help our bodies recover as well and just focus on basically volleyball the whole week," said Tolentino.
"People are expecting us to go home to our families, but for us, the season is ongoing so we'll make a little sacrifice and we'll really get there," added Wong in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Ateneo Lady Eagles will resume their games on April 4, facing the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses. – Rappler.com