Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Looking at the Game One: what Ateneo did right and can La Salle come back?

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Looking at the Game One: what Ateneo did right and can La Salle come back?
by rick olivares pic by brosi gonzales

Was I surprised by the outcome of Ateneo’s Game One win over La Salle? Not really. The edition of the Lady Eagles might not be bristling with the same weaponry as their previous squads that went to the past two finals but one thing they have is this confidence that has been building for a while now and the belief they can get the job done.

I think there were three factors that determined the win.

In my previous column about Ateneo volleyball, I mentioned confidence as a huge factor in playing in the UAAP Finals.

In the first set, La Salle looked sharp and flashed deadly form. The Lady Eagles looked nothing like the team that romped through seven consecutive wins en route to this title series. The Lady Spikers have that ability to sap your confidence without even having served a ball. After all they have won the championship three in a row and have hardly dropped a set along the way.

They looked like the didn’t have any rust from the 18-day lay-off as they mercilessly blocked Alyssa Valdez while serving with impunity. When the Lady Spikers jumped to a 14-3 lead, I felt they had an opportunity to bury the Lady Eagles and crush their spirit by putting up an even more lopsided score. Only they didn’t totally stop Ateneo.

The Lady Eagles began to execute their offense better. After Aerieal Patnongon scored by dumping the ball off a misreceive, the score stood at 17-11, still for La Salle who eventually closed out the set, 25-17. As good as that was for DLSU, I had this feeling the second set would be different.

Watching the Lady Eagles, they didn’t hang their heads as they changed courts. They looked like they were into it. They knew that their rally fell short only because La Salle spotted them a huge lead.

When you have confidence in your game you handle the pressure better.

A more dynamic attack.
What led to this huge win by Ateneo? Once they got their confidence going, the Lady Eagles began to execute their offense to the letter.

In the second set was Ateneo battled back from an early deficit to post a two-point lead, 14-12. Two points doesn’t sound like a lot and La Salle showed that by tying the match again but the Lady Eagles answered by taking another two point lead, 16-14, only this time, they didn’t let go. Holding that lead would later give them confidence in the later sets when La Salle rallied.

This is what Alyssa Valdez had to endure. A three-woman wall from La Salle that was very successful in the first set.

With Alyssa Valdez mostly stymied in the early goings by La Salle’s wall, it was up to her teammates to pick up the slack. And as good as Air Valdez is, volleyball is a team game. This is where I credit Jia Morado who mixed up her ball distribution. Everyone got in on the act in the second set – Ella De Jesus, Amy Ahomiro, Michelle Morente, and Patnongon. They ran decoys, quick plays, and placed their spikes better. 

Morado doesn’t put up too many points on the board and she isn’t a factor on defense just yet but she is playing so much better than anyone expected. But her playmaking isn’t so bad for a freshman. She had 40 excellent sets to the 32 of Kim Fajardo. And she will only get better.

They began to serve better giving La Salle a taste of their own medicine.

The serve has been a huge weapon for the Lady Spikers making the opposing team struggle just to mount any offense. They did that very well in the first set until Ateneo began to receive better (starting with Denden Lazaro). When the girls in white and blue began to serve better, La Salle didn’t get too many good first balls and they struggled to get into their offense.

With Patnongon and Ahomiro scoring points from the middle that moved around La Salle’s wall that opened it up for Morente and Ella De Jesus. They also tried a few trick plays that had La Salle guessing. Now that they had some scoring options up front, Valdez began to fire away howitzers from the back row.

Early in this season I dropped by an Ateneo practice (that was delayed by a D-League game at Blue Eagle Gym). I pulled Patnongon aside and said to her that any road to a championship will mean she will have to stand tall in the middle. She looked at me and said, “Naku, pressure yan ha.” I repeated what I said in front of Alyssa Valdez and Denden Lazaro who both turned to their teammate and agreed with me.

Patnongon has yet to fully recover the form she displayed while playing with the Lady Eagles a couple of years ago in the V-League. She’s played a huge role (in the absence of Marge Tejada) too in this run. If she gains even more confidence then that will augur well for Coach Anusorn Bundit’s squad. She scored three points but look at this – she played in all four sets. Earlier in the season, she’d sit down for a lot of them.

But back to my point about a dynamic attack. Take a gander at this – Morente led all scorers with 17 points followed by 16 points each from Valdez and Ahomiro with De Jesus adding 12 of her own. That’s plenty of help.

If they can keep up this balanced scoring attack, it will not only ease the pressure on Valdez to put up points but it will force La Salle to adjust to open up on defense.

Great defense.
The Lady Eagles completed their hat trick in stealing a page from the Lady Spikers by playing great defense. They had 50 excellent digs to the 29 of La Salle. And they received the ball a lot better as well.

Leading the way was Lazaro who has really played well this season. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that she only played the libero position a couple of years ago when Roger Gorayeb converted her into one. But even back then she was impressive the way she backstopped her teammates.   

There was De Jesus during the third set where she helped turn the tide. She began with two consecutive scoring blocks. She had a third block but Ahomiro put the attack to bed with a point. Before De Jesus’ incredible stand, the score was 8-7 in favor of Ateneo. This terrific defensive stand put the count at 11-7 and Ateneo began to pile up the points en route to a 25-13 third set win and a two sets to one lead.

Lastly, they began to read La Salle's plays better. Once they did, they put up a better wall at the net.

Questions about Game One and heading into Game Two
Having said that was there more pressure on La Salle to win this that it’s become a burden?
Not at all. In my opinion, it was just about the same. I remember one media person remarking inside the pressroom that Ateneo and NU are killing themselves just to get shellacked by La Salle in the finals. Sure the Lady Eagles are massive underdogs but that doesn’t mean they came all the way to finals to serve as foils. No one wants to be a bridesmaid for three consecutive years and against La Salle no less.

Whether they overachieved or not, you do not want to waste these opportunities because there is no telling when you will get back much less win it. That championship window will be open for so long before it closes. And you do not want to waste the Alyssa Valdez years. To say that let’s wait next year when there are better recruits is a defeatist attitude. If you can win it now, why not?

Did the 18-day lay-off affect La Salle?
No. Unless you’d like to say that their first set romp was a fluke. I can also conversely say that Ateneo is tired after having gone through the ringer that is the stepladder format.

I thought that Ateneo’s early adjustments and the positive energy fed to them by Coach Thai helped. Furthermore, it forced La Salle to change their game plan. We all saw Coach Ramil De Jesus dig into his bench and change his rotation.

Someone asked me if La Salle was overconfident against Ateneo. Is there a grain of truth about that?
Not at all. They were watching Ateneo’s late run heading into the Finals. You do not become champion by disrespecting your opponents. You respect them that is why you prepare and train hard. Have you seen La Salle practice? I have. No let up at all.

What does this loss mean for La Salle?
Remember when they lost their first set of the season to FEU? Holding on to streaks can be a burden. The Lady Spikers were more relaxed after that as they played better. I have no doubt, they will play better in Game Two.

To reiterate, the pressure has gone up a level for both teams. With their 30-match win streak history, La Salle will simply concentrate on the game at hand. They need a win to restore their confidence and get their title retention bid back on track. We all saw this two years ago when they dropped the first game to Ateneo before dusting them off in the next two. But I guarantee you they aren’t banking on history repeating itself. They know they have to go out and win it.

Game Two is going to be a battle.


  1. Grabe. Goosebumps after reading that last line. Fastfoward to Saturday naaaaaa! :)
    Interesting how Mika Reyes was relatively quiet this game tho. Lets see on Saturday.

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  2. Watching the streaming...start of 4th set when the vaunted DLSU rally was upcoming and 'expected', tale of 2 coaches remarks (as per courtside reporters:
    Tai : forget the last set.(this after crushing a mighty foe, 2 sets back to back and limiting it to a 13 point set) Focus on the current. MEDITATE.
    Ramil : Wala ba kayong pride sa sarili nyo?
    Minsan, sa pagpapalaki ng anak at pagtuturo (I was once a teacher myself) Don't dwell on the negative. It may work on some as a means of motivation, but not always. This dlsu team which hasn't experienced any serious adversity (until in this game) all season long never really revealed the 'ugly'' in their game. And when they did here, a coach's remark dwelt on what they didn't show rather than on what they have been doing all along. The motivation sure wasn't enough to jumpstart the supposed come-back.

  3. I think La Salle will come back and still win the CHAMPIONSHIP.

    1. Yeah, well no one asked for your opinion.

  4. OFF TOPIC: Anyone else having this difficulty?

    for those who don't wanna click the link, when you try to go to forums, I always get the IPS Driver error. It has something to do with database or something. Admin error?

    Ang tagal na nito. I miss the old forum.

  5. IF ALE can battle from 0-2 sets down, this will be monumental. They can string 3 sets right? GO Ateneo. GO girls. OBF pa rin!

  6. 1 set down, 2 to go

  7. Sayang miscue sa 4th. Yong last point. But you gotta be happy with how they lost the 4th. We had the chance! Dati rati, pag 2-3 points lamang ng DLSU sa 20's, wala na. Eto umabot pa sa extended set. Sayang. And I strongly felt really that a 5th set woulda gone ALEs way. Dlsu ang mukhang kinabahan sa 4th. ALE was just going about its business.

    Anyway, 1-0 sa series. Get the next. OBF!