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The Ateneo Lady Eagles for the unbelievers and the forgetful ones.
by rick olivares
That was some five-set match where the Ateneo Lady Eagles defeated the La Salle Lady Spikers in five sets (21-25, 25-22, 25-16, 21-25, 15-5) to finish the elimination round with a 12-2 record. The match saw outstanding performances from both sides.
No one thought that the first round encounter would end up in a three-set sweep by La Salle. That's not saying La Salle couldn't win but maybe in four or five sets. Having said that, no one thought that in the second round encounter, the fifth set would have ended that way.
For the Ateneo point of view...
This one is for the unbelievers.
That first set when La Salle looked to pull away… did you have flashbacks about that first round game where the Lady Spikers steamrolled the Ateneo Lady Eagles in three sets? Seemed like it, huh?
But the script…. well, it wasn’t written that way.
There were several things that didn’t fit the script.
For one, the intensity that La Salle displayed was matched and more.
Second, although DLSU took the first set, they didn’t bury Ateneo. At one point, it seemed like it was going the route of another embarrassing blowout but the Lady Eagles began playing better towards the end of that set. It ended, 25-21, and could have been closer were it not for an Ateneo error. And as it happened, I was reminded of Game One of the Season 76 Finals where the Lady Spikers took the first set in similar fashion. Then as it is now, the Lady Eagles crept back into the game and ultimately won the first set.
Although, the script this time around was different as it went to a fifth set.
That first set, it looked as if Ateneo had not learned anything from their previous encounter. Their floor defense was terrible. They had trouble receiving and getting into attack mode. They were making too many errors. However, they corrected that and began to play better.
Even as the Lady Eagles conceded the fourth set, they remained undaunted. Check out Jhoana Maraguinot serving to start that fifth set. There was that huge smile on her face.
Another thing, when Maddie Madayag went down with a season-ending knee injury, while people figured out that Amy Ahomiro would slide back to her old middle blocker position, quite a few wondered how the loss in a reliable would affect the team.
For one, Kim Gequillana stepped up. And there was a stretch there in the second round match with La Salle where she carried the team.
Two, so did Bea De Leon.
In a non-volleyball related analogy, I thought of the Chicago Bulls during their six-peat year when the team traded away promising power forward Jason Caffey for some draft picks and cash. That didn’t make sense then but it was Chicago’s way of telling incumbent four-spot man Dennis Rodman that it was on him now. I am not suggesting that Maddie is a liability or she needs to be benched or that she was taking away something from De Leon. Far from that. It’s simple. Bea has really played much better to make up for a lost teammate.
This one is for the forgetful.
Much has been made that defense trumps offense any time. Sure it does. But that makes it sound like the other team doesn’t play defense at all. You don’t win six straight matches to start the season because of offense only. You don’t win two consecutive titles on offense only.
Late in the first set, when Amy Ahomiro was serving, that was the turnaround. La Salle began to have problems receiving. They were getting stuffed at the net as well but more on that in a bit.
In Season 77, Ateneo was serving a lot of errors. That was because head coach Anusorn Bundit wanted them to really give the opposing teams problems with that first ball. The match commentators from yesterday also opined the same for La Salle.
For all the supposed receiving problems, they give even more problems to opposing teams with their serves as when compared to last season’s undefeated team.
While Ateneo’s rank in digging and receiving is down this year, they are better in their net defense. Yes, Ateneo is better at blocking this year; they're just not leading the league in that category.
Blocking stats end of elims Season 77
Blocking stats end of elims Season 78
And believe it or not, Ateneo is receiving better this year as compared to last year.
Receiving stats end of elims Season 77
Receiving stats end of elims Season 78
You have to really give a lot of credit to the rest of the league for taking their game to a higher level because of what Bundit and the Lady Eagles have done (you really have to give credit Tai for many things). In fact, it has been a really incredible season with a lot of teams vying for Final Four slots.
Now, the five-set win, was massive because it vaults Ateneo into the next round with even more confidence. Now the best teams are left in the competition, expect the level of play to go even higher.