This appears in the February 23, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Thoughts on the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ elimination round sweep
by rick olivares
Who would have thought it was possible? Did anyone ever think it was possible? Even last year’s championship is still like a dream.
Nevertheless, there are still some quarters that think that Ateneo peaked at the right time during the later stages of the Season 76 campaign that saw the Lady Eagles take down Adamson in the Final Four before rendering National University’s twice to beat advantage moot. In the Finals, there was the difficult task of taking down four-peat seeking La Salle that had the thrice to beat advantage. It is those same quarters that felt that the long rest between the elimination round sweep and the finals dulled the Lady Spikers’ edge. They also conveniently forget the previous season where they were in the same scenario of an elimination round sweep and its three-game advantage. Yet they won in the Season 75 finals.
So the first meeting between the Lady Eagles and the Lady Spikers at the tail end of the first round had added meaning. Fluke win the previous year or not? Never mind if Ateneo played back-to-back days, first against UE, and then against La Salle.
While they didn’t look sharp against the Lady Spikers owing to lack of recovery time they mustered enough game to take the match in five sets. What was even more amazing with that was partida na ang La Salle because of the UE match the day before.
Nevertheless, the second round meeting was just as huge. For La Salle, it was to prevent a sweep, something they have done twice, and to play Ateneo for the number one seed. For Ateneo, it was to complete an unprecedented sweep.
And as much as the women take center stage in a match like this, the sideline matching of wits between Anusorn Bundit and Ramil De Jesus is just as interesting. De Jesus is the standard for excellence and his teams have won a lot. You can say that they have good recruits hence a really good program. But recruiting is part of the program and the coaching. Plus, if you go back to the first round meeting, he brought in Christine Soyud and Mary Joy Baron, as surprise packages for his squad. For this match, he unveiled Carol Cerveza in the match up and even used Desiree Cheng late in the game as the setter. And it worked too!
Over to the opposite side of the court, don’t mistake Bundit’s “happy happy” approach to the game as being simple or even aloof. He does a lot of his work during practice where he is even harder than Roger Gorayeb. However, come game time, he opts to be – in his own words – “like a father.” Reminders here and there and lots of encouragement.
There’s also the sub-plot of the Thai and his Filipino opposite having played against each other in the national team.
The Lady Eagles showed a lot of uncommon emotion in the first set. Maybe it’s La Salle and the high stakes involved. Maybe it’s because Michelle Morente was on the floor and she is the most ebullient of the Lady Eagles in their celebration while the others prefer more subdued smiles, hugs and low fives. They looked to blow out La Salle early on but the errors piled up while Ara Galang got untracked after getting gob smacked at the net early.
There are several things you can glean from their approach to that first set win, 25-20, and in fact, the entire game:
- They aren’t afraid of La Salle
- If they are able to minimize their unforced errors they can end sets in a hurry.
- Their confidence is really really high.
In fact it was so high I thought that the boisterous celebrations and high energy attack was because of gigil and Morente’s displays of emotion. And that when that emotion was tempered would their play drop?
It did drop and so did their offense. At one point, Jia Morado set up Alyssa Valdez for about six consecutive attacks only to get blocked or to hit one out each time.
In spite of this, you have to forgive Alyssa because of what she does and what she brings. Come on, it’s like having Kobe Bryant or LeBron James on your team. Yes, you occasionally give the rock to Swaggy P or Wesley Johnson but you want Black Mamba to have that ball especially during crunch time. Ditto with James. Now when you have an Alyssa Valdez in your lineup you give it to probably the most devastating weapon there is in Philippine women’s volleyball.
Prior to the La Salle match, I asked Morado what it was like to play alongside Alyssa Valdez and she said she has those fan moments even while on the court. Sometimes she can’t believe she’s setting up the Captain for those booming and thunderous spikes of hers.
However, in that second set, Air Valdez was grounded as La Salle evened up the game, 25-21.
But the Lady Eagles came back with strong play behind Bea De Leon, Amy Ahomiro, and Jhoanna Maraguinot (with some heads up setting and drop shots by Morado) to storm back ahead, 25-23, in the third set.
The return of De Leon from an injury that kept her out of the last few matches is huge because she plugs that hole in the middle and is able to provide some scoring sock along with Ahomiro. If you saw her during the V-League, she was getting her feet wet in the seniors level. She looked like she had potential but seemed a year or two away from even realizing that. Lo and behold, come UAAP-time, she was awesome. The team never had that force in the middle before and that adds a huge dimension to Ateneo’s attack making them even better than last year’s squad. As for Ahomiro, last year Kiwi showed her stuff but this year she is hitting the ball better. I thought she was getting her timing and finding that shot but this year, there’s much more force in her wallops.
Plus, there’s Maraguinot.
In Season 76, there was Morente and Kim Gequillana. Both are still there although the latter rarely gets playing time. Into that breach stepped Maraguinot who waited two years before she could play (she had to sit due to grades). I am glad she stayed the course because sitting out two years isn’t easy. While I think Morente is better defensively, I think Maraguinot has better offensive skills (of course, I could be wrong here but it is just my assumption having watched all their matches this season).
One might notice that the Lady Eagles commit a lot of errors this year as opposed to last season. I am told that it is because their serves are being tweaked. Occasionally, I also notice their concentration waver a bit. Luckily for them, they have been able to dig back and fashion out some huge five set wins or even come back from huge deficits (see the matches against La Salle in the first round and the third set against UE in the second round).
They could have put La Salle away in the fourth set but the Lady Spikers with all their talent, championship experience, and firepower, came right back to level the count at 24-all. Maraguinot with an excellent set by Morado, rattled off the winning points to complete the sweep. She finished with 10 points behind De Leon’s 11 and Valdez’ match-leading 29. The Lady Spikers’ Ara Galang was the only one who finished in double figures with 20 points.
They took some pretty close sets against La Salle; no mean feat against a strong and talented rival. It should further boost their confidence.
With the sweep, there’s the concern of a lay-off and it could be ripe for La Salle to return the favor. So how did the Lady Eagles celebrate their elimination round sweep – why they went back to work the following day as Bundit would have none of that rest.
In the meantime, we turn our attention to the battle for fourth and the final four.