This appears on philstar.com
Ateneo serves UE a post-Valentine’s Day heartbreaker
by rick olivares
When you aren’t playing well and find yourself down, you go back to basics. In the case of the Ateneo Lady Eagles, head coach Anusorn Bundit or “Coach Thai” as he is affectionately called, pushed the timeout button and asked his girls to calm themselves and meditate.
“A year ago when Coach Tai first told us to line up and meditate, we were like, ‘what’s this’ and ‘are we doing this,’” recounted setter Jia Morado when the Thai volleyball coach’s technique was first introduced. “It was weird and some laughed. Pero when we saw that coach was serious about it we all focused and tried it out. We saw that it worked for us and a lot of what coach taught us also worked the believability factor went up for us. And ever since, that technique has always had that calming effect on us.”
The Lady Eagles looked to make easy pickings of the winless University of the East Lady Warriors who to their credit were loose and not intimidated at all by the defending champions. “Good receive lang tapos good set sa opensa may laban tayo,” reminded head coach Francis Vicente. “Tapos depensa tayo.”
“Alam namin may mga injured players sila so tignan namin kung maka-take advantage kami,” said UE’ Shaya Adorador before the match.
While Ateneo didn’t pull out all the stops in taking care of UE, they were still pretty good enough to comfortably win the first two sets (25-22 and 25-17).
However, unlike their first round encounter that saw them crush UE in three straight, the third set turned interesting and into Ateneo sports lore (at the expense of the hard-luck Lady Warriors).
Despite their gaudy 12-0 record, at times, the Lady Eagles’ level of play sometimes dropped as they committed all sorts of uncharacteristic receiving and service errors (there’s a reason for this). However, due to their sheer talent, composure and championship experience, they’ve always had an answer to tough challenges (UP and La Salle in the first round and Adamson in the second).
The Lady Warriors quickly raced to a 6-0 lead as Ateneo’s had receiving and hitting problems. During one play, they blocked Alyssa Valdez’ spike that bounced back on the Queen Eagle’s head for a UE point.
Ateneo looked to have gotten back in the game as they scored two quick points to go with a block point by Jia Morado that sandwiched an Amy Ahomiro service error. But UE chalked up eight consecutive points off solid defense and Ateneo miscues.
It was 12-3 when Bundit called a timeout.
“Feeling ni coach na medyo na off yung laro nila,” related assistant coach Parley Tupaz during the timeout. “’Kalma tapos tapos some adjustments. Akala namin mag-adjust na pero hindi pa rin.”
Michelle Morente’s wallop was too strong as it went out. Adorador scored. And Angelica Dacaymat spiked one through the blockers to make it a surprising 15-3.
“Sabi ko wag bumitaw at bigyan ang Ateneo ng pagkakataon huminga at humabol,” later revealed Vicente.
And it just looked like UE would win only its second set of the season as they went up 20-9 after Alyssa Valdez’s hammer strike went out.
“We were down big, and we said, ‘one point at a time,” said libero Denden Lazaro.
“On the court, even if someone made a mistake, we encouraged each other,” added Morado of the tense situation. “No one got mad. We just made sure we were there for each other just like all the other times.”
Even at 17-7, the Lady Eagles were still smiling. “Happy. Happy.” encouraged the injured Bea De Leon from the sidelines.
Slowly, methodically, and point by agonizing point, the Lady Eagles crawled back. It began with better defense followed by better serves and better attacks.
UE began to burn their timeouts as Ateneo inched closer. Vicente called his first time out of the set after Ateneo scored three straight points to make it 18-9.
The timeout looked to have broke Ateneo’s momentum as the Lady Eagles sent two more shots wide; 20-9, UE.
Then Ateneo scored three straight points and Vicente called his second and last time out. Theoretically it sounds right but maybe it was a little too early.
The Lady Eagles scored two more points including a brilliant drop shot by Morado.
After Adorador scored a point off a check ball to move within four points of taking the set, Vicente sucked some air.
But if he thought that stopped the bleeding, then his ulcers might have acted up after Ateneo scored five straight points. After Valdez, his former player in UST’s girls team scored off a check ball that Donna Nebrea gave futile chase, Vicente looked really worried.
With his team reeling, Lady Eagle Ella De Jesus smacked one out of bounds to make it 24-21 to set up set point.
However, Ateneo survived a long rally as De Jesus redeemed herself by finding an open spot on the floor, 24-22.
After a poor UE set, Ahomiro tipped the ball in, 24-23.
Another long rally ensued with Ateneo unable to punch the ball in as UE sent back several free balls. Ahomiro finally made it a two-point affair after she found a hole in the back, 24-all.
And soon, they found themselves without any more timeouts.
“We still had one more but we didn’t want to help them,” chuckled Tupaz.
The Lady Eagles finally knotted the count at 24-all and won the last two points as Michelle Morente blocked a UE attack for match point.
With Jhoanna Maraguinot serving, Bien Elaine Juanillo failed to get a good hand on the ball for a mis-hit to suddenly put Ateneo at match point.
Maraguinot served a safe one into UE’s side and as the Lady Warriors set up their attack, Michelle Morente blocked Dacaymat for the point that completed their incredible comeback.
Post-match, Ateneo Athletics Director Ricky Palou said that despite their 13-0 record, it has been an interesting season. “I think we are finding new ways to win,” quipped the former Blue Eagle.
“That was ‘Heartstrong’ in action,” said Ateneo team sponsor Thor Lim. “But it’s good that the team is challenged and facing all sorts of adversity because that will help them in the Final Four and hopefully, in the Finals.”