Another gritty win by the Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team
by rick olivares
Former Ateneo women’s basketball player Marianna Lopa pegged the match between the Lady Eagles and the Adamson Lady Falcons right. “Nakaka-stress pala to,” exclaimed Lopa who was in stands at the San Juan Arena for the match that saw both squads back to square one with a set apiece.
I nodded in agreement. And I expected this. If UST is Ateneo’s volleyball rival, Adamson is and has always been somewhat of a contrapelo.
When an Ateneo supporter asked what my pre-game thoughts, I said without hesitation, “This one’s going to be a five-setter.” Even Ateneo head coach Roger Gorayeb was surprised that I said that. “It’s going to be an ugly game. Pero at the end, I’m sure it will be another of those character wins.” The coach grinned and somewhat agreed. “If they don’t come out and do what they have to do then agree ako sa yo.”
True enough, it did go to five sets with Ateneo fashioning out a gritty 22-25, 25-23, 25-16, 23-25, 15-11 win. The Lady Falcons are a team that always flies under the radar. They do not have the “name” players but they’re one of the toughest teams to play year in and out. Their style is simple: no frills fundamental volleyball. And oh, they happen to be very good and have for years knocked Ateneo out of different competitions even if the Lady Eagles fielded much better teams.
In the recent UniGames, the Lady Eagles were once more undefeated when they ran smack into Adamson in the quarterfinals where they lost despite spotting their foes a two-sets-to-none lead. In Ateneo’s first two Final Four appearances in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament, it was Adamson that ousted them.
With Ateneo at 5-0 and Adamson at 3-1, the game carried a lot of significance. Ateneo needed a win especially a tough one against Adamson heading into their final first round match against La Salle that was a match behind at 5-1. The Lady Falcons needed to win to stay within striking distance of the top two slots while holding off the NU Lady Bulldogs.
As the match began, it looked like the long Christmas vacation dulled Ateneo’s edge as well as their fitness and conditioning as they got lost in their rotation on several occasions while committing unusual service, hitting, and receiving errors. The kind that drives Gorayeb or for the matter any coach crazy because they are unforced.
Both teams traded points en route to 22 lead changes in the first set as both teams had an answer for everything the other squad threw at them. But a Bhebs Pineda service ace and spike gave Adamson a crucial two-point lead that was a luxury with the way the game was played. The Lady Falcons closed out the set with an unchallenged shot at the backline to go up one set to none.
For the second time in this first round, the Lady Eagles found themselves losing the first set (the first was against NU). In contrast, after La Salle lost their season opener to UST, they have not dropped a set in five matches; all three-set wins.
The second set saw more of the same with both teams trading points. The Lady Eagles continue to struggle as Adamson would not allow them to get into their rhythm. Just when it appeared Ateneo got it as they finally got consecutive points to go 7-5 and at 15-12, Adamson answered with a run of their own.
But following a 23-all tie, Ateneo a score off a block and an error by Adamson gave the Lady Eagles the equalizer.
That gave the team more confidence as it seemed to get them over the hump. They took the next set with relative ease to go up 25-18.
Adamson looked broken as Ateneo took an early 2-0 lead in the fourth set but whether by fatigue or letting their guard down, the Lady Falcons came back. Watching the early minutes of the fourth set, I felt like Ateneo stepped off the gas pedal. It didn’t help when a clearly winded Alyssa Valdez who seemed to be cramping up went out.
Prior to the fourth set, there were three long rallies all won by Adamson. At one point Fille Cainglet was blocked three consecutive times at the net as the Lady Falcons got emboldened. Ateneo looked to taken a crucial 21-18 lead in the fourth but Adamson got right back in to level the match after Dzi Gervacio was blocked for a score.
In the fifth and final set, it was close until three consecutive aces by Valdez (she nearly had a fourth one were it not for an excellent dig at the back by Amanda Villanueva). Valdez still managed to score to make it 10-7.
To close out Adamson, Ateneo’s defense at the net, that had been stellar all game long, once more came to fore as their final two points came off attempts by Mayette Zapanta and Pau Soriano for a 15-11 win.
It was a gutty and gritty win by Ateneo. Valdez from the fourth set on needed to be constantly stretched. With the pressure mounting, she still delivered. And she was magnificent as she scored 30 huge points.
There was a crucial stretch too where it was Cainglet who carried the team. As I’ve maintained, Jem Ferrer is the best setter and she did help Mae Tajima get some huge points.
Take note that Tajima is late bloomer to the game. She may be slow especially in her footwork and reaction time but she’s got potential. As soon as she got in the match for Marge Tejada she blocked Pau Soriano. There were times when she seemed lost and getting in the way of Alyssa Valdez on the attack. But with more playing time, she will get better. Remember her entrance in last year’s finals helped Ateneo to its only win against La Salle in the series.
Dzi Gervacio scattered 12 points while Gretchen Ho – save for her two service errors – had her moments on offense and defense.
Could they have played better? For sure. As Marianna Lopa said, it is a stressful game. Watching La Salle decimate UP, they had put in their bench but they never stepped off the accelerator. But this is Adamson and I am not going to underestimate them.
When the core of the current team were freshmen, they played in five five setters that year and lost four of them. In most of those games, they spotted the opposing teams with two-set leads before they fell apart. And these were against other UAAP squads that were complete and in full strength. We all talked about those games as being teachers for them.
At 6-0, not all the games have been easy. In fact, even in matches that they swept, the Lady Eagles didn’t look overwhelming. With the season almost halfway done, they will and can only get better. Character wins the lot of them. But the biggest test is yet to come when they play La Salle -- the best women's volleyball team in the land as they are current UAAP and UniGames champs -- next Saturday.