Ateneo sets up Finals rematch with La Salle
Lady Eagles defeat Lady Falcons in three sets
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - The Ateneo Lady Eagles are returning to the women's volleyball finals for the second straight year after defeating the Adamson Lady Falcons in three hotly-contested sets in their UAAP Season 75 Final Four match at the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.
Despite winning via sweep, it was a difficult game for the Lady Eagles as they had to battle for every point en route to a 25-23, 25-23 and 26-24 victory.
Alyssa Valdez scored 22 points while skipper Angeline Gervacio added 10 points for the Lady Eagles, who will face rivals De La Salle Lady Spikers for the championship for the second season in a row.
"Motivated 'yung mga bata to go to the Finals talaga," Ateneo coach Roger Gorayeb said of his squad. "Malaking advantage din kasi yung twice-to-beat."
In the opening set, the Lady Falcons briefly pulled away after scoring four straight points to make it 15-10.
But the Lady Eagles responded with a 6-0 run of their own, powered by Valdez, to take a 16-15 lead into the second technical timeout.
From then on it was a nip-and-tuck affair as the two squads exchanged leads. An outside hit by Adamson captain Pau Soriano put the Lady Eagles at set point.
Mayette Zapanta saved one set point for the Lady Falcons, but she was denied by Ateneo's Ailysse Nacachi as the Lady Eagles seized Set 1, 25-23.
The second set was another tight affair, with neither team able to seize momentum. The largest lead of the set was two points, which Ateneo reached at 11-9 and again at 13-11, but Adamson quickly rallied to tie the score each time.
Shiela Pineda beat the Ateneo blockers to tie the set for the last time at 23-all, but Ateneo won the next two points, the last on a crosscourt hit by Fille Cainglet, to take a two-set lead.
The Lady Falcons were determined to push the match to a fourth set, and behind the efforts of Soriano and Pineda, took a four-point lead four times in the third frame.
"Prior to the game, I talked to the girls and I told them na very good team din ang Adamson in terms of defense," Gorayeb said when asked what his message was to the Lady Eagles at the time.
"Ang sabi ko, huwag pabayaan na lumaki ang lamang, kasi mahihirapan kami humabol," he added.
Adamson led 16-12, 18-14, 20-16, and 23-19, but the Lady Eagles were able to claw their way back into the set each time.
At 23-19, the Lady Falcons committed consecutive errors, and Valdez scored twice to force a 23-all deadlock.
Soriano, the Lady Falcons' graduating team captain, earned set point for her team after scoring through the Ateneo blockers. But she committed a service error, allowing the Lady Eagles to once again tie the game.
Another cross-court hit by Valdez put the Lady Eagles at match point, she denied an Adamson attack to seal the victory for Ateneo.
"Sobrang gusto naming makapasok sa finals," said Valdez, the league's leading scorer. "'Yun ang inspiration namin, tsaka 'yung mga graduating namin na teammates."
Soriano wound up with 17 points, while Pineda and Zapanta each scored nine markers for the Lady Falcons.
It was the first time this season that Ateneo had beaten Adamson in three sets, as both of their elimination round matches were five-setters
"As a coach, for any coach for that matter, winning in three sets, four sets, five sets, it doesn't make a difference," Gorayeb said.
"What matters is you win the game, you get that margin against your opponent."
Once again, the Lady Eagles will face the Lady Spikers in the Finals, and Gorayeb is the first to admit that La Salle holds an advantage against them.
"Ang La Salle ang may advantage sa amin because they have been the champions (for two years now), and this is our second year to go to the Finals," he pointed out.
"La Salle is also a stronger team in terms of height, so we'll try to make some adjustments para ma-offset ang height nila," Gorayeb added.
La Salle won both matches against Ateneo in the elimination round.
Game 1 of the best-of-three Finals will be at 4:00 p.m. on March 2, Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.