Ateneo vs. La Salle
21-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-23
by rick olivares
December 18, 2007
Blue Eagle Gym
AJ Pareja was a fearsome volleyball player for Lourdes while in high school. He was recruited by several programs most notably La Salle’s. Ronald Dulay should know, he along with the school’s boosters wined and dined him in Shangri-La EDSA just to get him to wear the green and white.
But never underestimate blood ties. AJ’s older brother Paolo was already on the Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team and it didn’t take much to sway him to move to Loyola.
At 1-5, AJ has been having a rollercoaster of a season. Sometimes his powerful spikes have been there and sometimes they have not. “If he could control his attacks better he will be an unstoppable player,” remarked University Athletics Director Ricky Palou early in the first round of Season 70.
The team like AJ has been gathering steam of late. They secured their first win of the year with a 3-1 win over NU. And their final assignment of the first round was De La Salle.
The entire coaching staff of Ateneo has ties elsewhere. Dulay played and won a title with FEU. His assistants Micmic Laborte played for La Salle Bacolod, Clint Malazo suited up for Letran while Oliver Almadro donned the colors of San Sebastian. Except for Laborte, it is with La Salle where the three of them cut their coaching eyeteeth. But nothing seems forever. If they thought they were safely ensconced in Taft then imagine their surprise when they were eased out because of political maneuverings. And for Ateneo whose program is on the upswing, one fool’s garbage is a wise man’s gold.
So there was extra importance in the match. It became a must-win match although one party (ours) tried to downplay it.
The La Salle Men’s Volleyball team isn’t the powerhouse it once was. Nevertheless, they’re still a tough team and a contender for a final four spot. Some like to describe their game as one of pure aggression, but to put it in the vernacular, the term is “maangas.”
The Blue Spikers stood toe-to-toe with their Taft counterparts until a series of reception errors and high-flying spikes allowed La Salle to pull away for a 21-25 win in the first set. Thinking that the Ateneans were done for, the La Sallians ratcheted up their taunting, finger pointing, and trash talking with every point. And it seemed that a rout was beginning as DLSU raced to a 7-2 lead.
Dulay sued for time and reminded the Blue Spikers to ignore their opponents’ taunts. “Talikuran niyo” was the term Malonzo used. Then a succinct rallying cry -- “tapatan niyo ng aggressive play.”
Mike De Joya, AJ Pareja, and Julborg Africa answered the call with a punishing attack that saw them overhaul the deficit to lead at 10-8. Along with Macky Limgenco, the Ateneans put up an unforgiving defense that stymied La Salle’s big three of Russell Raz, Chris Macasaet, and Eman Boquiren.
A curious change for the game was inserting Paolo Pareja at libero for Juan Carlo Dulu and the graduating team captain played one of his best games with his receptions and digs. With their backline defense shored up, Limgenco leveled the match at a set-apiece with a powerful smash at the net.
La Salle took to the court still cocky with Raz challenging the Ateneans to “pustahan na lang.” DLSU quickly raced to a 4-0 lead and their mouths still running. But a spike by Africa, a pair of dinks by Timmy Sto. Tomas, and De Joya’s net aggression soon forged a tie at 17-all. Ateneo would not relinquish the lead back to their arch-rivals as they pulled away for a 25-22 win in the pivotal third set. Seldom used Tyrone Judes Casumpang even made a surprise appearance and scored on a service ace that raised Ateneo’s confidence.
The fourth and final set followed a similar plot but it was Ateneo that led early on. The teams battled through 10 deadlocks before the Blue Spikers displayed steel nerves and held on for a scintillating 25-23 win. And for the first time since… well, no one can remember anymore – the alma mater song was sung during a men’s volleyball game. And the Blue Babble Battalion whose very presence gave the team a dose of energy and an emotional lift led the croaked yet impassioned singing.
In the season thus far, the team took its first set from FEU in years, nearly beat Adamson and UP, and now upended the Green Spikers for their first win against their arch-rivals in years. They finished first round play with a 2-5 record and moved up to sixth place in the team standings. If they continue their winning ways they can find themselves playing for a seat in the final four.
It was a most joyous team that gathered at halfcourt. They received hearty congratulations from the coaching staff and athletics officials. They made plans for further training during the holidays so they don’t lose their shape and momentum come the New Year. “Nandito na tayo,” said AJ Pareja who finished with a game high 25points. Panindigan na natin.”
The team broke the huddle with a noisy yet throaty “One Big Fight.”
Notes: Ateneo is at 6th place ahead of its two vanquished foes, La Salle and National University. AJ Pareja and Mike de Joya are in second and third respectively in the tournament’s Best Scorers rankings. Mike De Joya and Juan Carlo Dulu are at fifth and seventh respectively on the Top 10 Attackers list. Macky Limgenco and Timmy Sto. Tomas are at third and eighth in the Top 10 Best Blockers. AJ Pareja, Mike De Joya, and Timmy Sto. Tomas are at fifth, seventh, and eighth in the Top 10 Best Servers list. Juan Carlo Dulu is the first round's 10th Best Digger. Sto. Tomas is the league's fourth best setter.