This appears in ateneo.edu
Volleying against the tide
The Ateneo Lady Eagles enter the UAAP volleyball finals as true foes and not mere foils.
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales
February 22, 2012
San Juan Arena
In the summer of 2008, four players -- Ryan Buenafe, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Vince Burke -- joined the Ateneo Blue Eagles in what can be considered as one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball. Technically, there were five of them – Tonino Gonzaga spent a year on Team B before he was called up – and together, they have won four UAAP titles. They are hardly done as their college career closes next season, they’d want nothing more than to graduate with another title. One more championship ring; this one for the thumb.
That same summer of 2008, another batch of five players also entered Loyola Heights hoping to end a long drought this time for the women’s volleyball team. That was Jem Ferrer (Hope Christian High School), Fille Cainglet (St. Scholastica’s College), Dzi Gervacio (St. Scholastica’s College), Gretchen Ho (Immaculate Conception Academy), and Aillysse Nacachi (Canossa Academy).
Of the five, it was Nacachi who was the late bloomer as she only began to see playing time in the past season. As for the other four, they logged serious minutes even as rookies.
Together they helped the Ateneo Lady Eagles to a fifth place finish in their first year. That season, Ateneo, despite parading a rookie-laded lineup, oft battled the elite teams to a near standstill only to lose in several five-setters.
The following two years, they made the final four where they finished third and fourth respectively. In between, they bagged a V-League title. This Season 74, they have made the finals for the first time since Ateneo joined the UAAP in 1978. But even so, the odds are already stacked against them as La Salle, defending champions, swept the double round robin eliminations and earned themselves a thrice to beat advantage. More than that, they had not beaten La Salle in nine consecutive games.
In their first meeting, Ateneo took first set but lost the last three. In the last match of the second round, the Lady Eagles took a two-sets-to-one lead before a spate of receiving errors did them in as they collapsed in the last two sets. Even if the match went the full five sets, the Lady Archers were taunting the Lady Eagles as if to say, “you’ll never get this.”
And so the stage was set between the massive favorites and the underdogs. And it seemed, at least for almost two sets, that the girls in green and white would continue their domination (La Salle took the first set 25-23).
Yet with La Salle holding a 23-22 advantage in the second set, Ateneo head coach Roger Gorayeb’s gambit of sending in rookie Mary Tajima in for defense at center worked as the Lady Archers mysteriously stopped their attack in the middle. While it worked on defense, Tajima’s service error evened up the match at 24-all. But in gut check time, the Lady Eagles behind Ho and Cainglet hammered home three consecutive points to even the match at a set apiece, 28-26.
In the crucial third set, with the game tied once more at 23-all before nailing the last two points to take a two-sets-to-one lead.
In the fourth set, Ateneo pulled away when they reeled off nine straight points to make it 15-6 behind Dzi Gervacio’s booming jump serves that caused all sorts of receiving problems for La Salle. It was the biggest deficit ever for the Lady Archers all season long in 15 matches. But showing their championship form, La Salle mounted a rally that saw the come to within four at 12-16. Instead of folding, the Lady Eagles’ defense at the net got tighter while their open hitters began to find holes in their opponent’s floor.
As Dzi Gervacio capped a splendid fourth set with a kill for match point 25-17, the Lady Eagles finally ended over four year’s of frustration to La Salle (the last win was with Charo Soriano still in harness) to take Game 1.
Valdez led all scorers with 24 points while Fille Cainglet added 19. La Salle was led by Abigail Marano with 17 points with Michelle Gumabao and Victonara Galang chipping in 14 points each.
The Lady Eagles match the Lady Archers with nine points won through blocks; a sign that their defense was better than how they played in the eliminations.
It was a huge win for sure; one to give massive amounts of confidence to a team sorely needing one. La Salle for sure will regroup and come back after their perfect season was spoiled. But the Lady Eagles, happy as they were, tempered their celebration.
“Sana tuloy tuloy na ‘to,” said Gorayeb afterwards. “Alam na ng mga bata na kaya nilang talunin yung La Salle. Syempre hindi pa tapos ‘to. Matagal pa. Kailangan itaas pa nila yung kanilang laro para makuha yung championship.”
Game Two is set for Saturday, February 25, at 2pm at the San Juan Arena.
Here's one on the UAAP Baseball Finals.
Here's one on the UAAP Baseball Finals.