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.

Monday, February 1, 2016

UAAP Volleyball: Ateneo Lady Eagles vs NU Lady Bulldogs: An opening day crusher

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An opening day crusher
by rick olivares

It was a cruel win. A brutal loss. 

You know the sort where you give the horse a whiff of a fresh carrot then followed by a nibble here, a nibble there.

Then it’s jerked rudely away after which the horse is brought crashing to the ground and its face in the dirt.

Mayhap that is how the National University Lady Bulldogs feel after that crushing opening day three-set sweep (25-21, 25-19, 25-14) to the two-time defending champions the Ateneo Lady Eagles.

If you believe in signs then you might think that the Lady Eagles were headed for dire straits when Jhoanna Maraguinot committed a service error in the very first serve of the match. In fact, her first two serves went out for errors. 

You might have given that omen a little more credence when NU spotted Ateneo a 17-12 lead in the first set after a spate of receiving errors by newly-installed Ateneo libero Gizelle Tan who a few months ago was named the V-League’s best setter. 

But the Lady Eagles showed their resolve, born of many a heartache prior to their first championship years ago, to take the first set. Their rally from a deeper hole in the second set, 15-7, was more impressive.

And when they finally dropped the hammer on NU in the third set, they were in a frightening groove.

How they turned the tables on the Lady Bulldogs is impressive.

They turned their receiving problems into NU’s problem. Gizelle Tan eventually got the hang of it and helped the team while the Lady Eagles zeroed in on Myla Pablo, whoever libero they had on the court, and even Jorelle Singh.

They scattered their offense largely because of the masterful setting of Jia Morado that stretched NU’s defense. Coach Anusorn Bundit moved Amy Ahomiro to the side to make way for the much improved Maddie Madayag to form a two-punch attack in the middle with Bea De Leon (10 points). There was Jhoanna Maraguinot from the open position and of course, Alyssa Valdez (18 points) who scored from everywhere on the court. 

You have to like using Tan as libero because she too is like a second setter for Ateneo on the court. You have to forgive her for sometimes lapsing onto a setting mode as opposed to receiving but she’ll get the hang of it. When it came to winning time, she performed better.

You have to like how Bundit switched the positions of the players on the floor and even made key substitutions. They tactical substitution of Kim Gequillana for Jhoanna Maraguinot whose previous two serves resulted in errors is something of note. It steadied the serves and the play. Gequillana might have not scored a point but her veteran presence too was a stabilizing factor. By the time Maraguinot went back to the court, she was a little more settled. And she scored immediately.

After their spotty start, they played better defense - both on the floor and at the net. And those booming serves that gave La Salle all sorts of trouble two finals ago — they were back.

When Ateneo put two and two together, they wreaked havoc on NU that used three setters and two liberos. Roger Gorayeb used 11 players to try different combinations to stem the tide to no avail. They had bright spots in Jasmine Nabor who strung up a few consecutive points. Ivy Perez made a brief cameo where she helped her team even if ever so briefly. Roselyn Doria will be a force for NU after she soaks in more game experience. 

The Lady Eagles' breakout star was Maddie Madayag who finished with 13 points including five from blocks. She even had a couple of aces. And she closed out the second set with an ace and match point with a block against Pablo. It was to say the least, a phenomenal breakout game.

It isn’t the defense or going on a roll that we have seen many times in these past two years. What got my attention was how everyone — save for Kim Gequillana who will eventually chip in — contributed. Madayag fit in nicely to fill the shoes of Michelle Morente who is out with academic issues. 

As the team loses players to graduation (Denden and Ella De Jesus) and to academic issues (Morente) it is nice to see new players come in and fill the gaps. Gizelle is filling in some pretty large shoes but you have to admire how she has worked hard to be in her position. From being named best setter two V-League conferences ago to her replacing Denden Lazaro in the starting six. Not bad for someone who showed a lot of patience in waiting for her time to come.

But that opening day win showed that you have to take it early on and continue to pile on the points against the Lady Eagles because they have shown through the years that they can mount one mother of a comeback. It was the kind of spirit-crushing win to see how they turned the tables on the opponent. Giving them a dose of their own medicine.

And those reports of their decline following the V-League title loss — they are but greatly exaggerated. 

While the Ateneo Lady Eagles would like to have won the Shakey’s V-League that fact that they didn’t doesn’t diminish their fire and drive one iota.

Note to the doubting Thomases, Ateneo does not celebrate titles outside the UAAP with a bonfire. 

On to the next match.

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