Looking at the Ateneo Lady Eagles before their UP match
by rick olivares
At 4-1 with undefeated UP on deck, this is the crossroads of the season for the Ateneo Lady Eagles. They close out the first round against La Salle. They could go 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2. Either they vault to the top of the standings or stay within striking distance or drop to fourth or fifth.
These are the games where you learn what the team is made of. Sure, there’s the second round where teams make adjustments. As we said at the start of the season, as many as six teams will vie for the four Final Four slots. One loss is tough but somewhat acceptable. Two, three, you have to be concerned. Four, well…
For a team to win that coveted championship, a team must be able to not only hang but defeat a to-seeded squad. A Lady Eagle fan might point to the Season 76 team that came from behind to defeat NU in the semi-finals and La Salle in the finals after losing both elimination round matches.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day even if the College of St. Benilde pulled the trick against San Sebastian two years ago in the NCAA. Besides, that Lady Eagles possessed a weapon of mass destruction in Alyssa Valdez.
This Ateneo team is theoretically deeper and more talented. They have veterans in Mich Morente, Jho Maraguinot, Jia Morado, Bea De Leon, and Kim Gequillana who all played significant minutes during the title runs of Seasons 76-77. There are others who experienced the championship but played few minutes or were injured. And they have some talented newcomers. Now this team, save for Katrina Tolentino and Maddi Madayag, played in the last V-League Collegiate Conference finals and that’s good too. But that isn’t close to the atmosphere in the UAAP. You cannot approximate it.
They took down UST impressively and that might have set the Golden Tigresses on their downward spiral. They looked dead in the water against FEU before that impressive comeback. They took down the teams they need to do so in Adamson and UE (although it was a tad disappointing to see their intensity level drop late in the game). They looked bad for much of the loss to NU. Now there are the two other heavyweights in UP and La Salle who showed that they too can bounce back after a loss.
The Ateneo Lady Eagles, under Anusorn Bundit are like a diesel-engine – they start slow. During Season 76, they dropped two matches in the first round and two in the second. But if you look at their second round, they took one set from NU and this time didn’t drop a set to Adamson and UST who they battled tooth and nail in the first round.
It was the same in the undefeated Season 77, the lost six sets that first round then only one the rest of the way.
Last Season 78, they looked like they would steamroll the rest of the league en route to a third consecutive title. However, they lost first to La Salle to close out the first round then lost to UP to open the second round. They righted the ship and won the next seven matches including the Final Four outing versus UP. In the finals versus La Salle, they lost the first match, took Game Two, won the first set of Game Three then dropped the next three sets. Were they running on fumes then? Sure La Salle raised it to another level. But it was Ateneo’s to lose.
This year, they are back to the way they played during Season 76 and 77. They tease with potential and distress with inconsistency. That only means that the Lady Eagles are still getting into a rhythm. I guess they are just a slow starting team. That’s good too because you peak at the right time.
Bundit believes a strong start and taking the first set is crucial in beating UP. Sure it is. But more than that it is consistency and raising the level of their game. The Lady Maroons have displayed a lot of energy in their games. While they aren’t a finished product, they sure do bring it.
Both Ateneo and UP trained in Japan in the pre-season. They saw the quick transition from defense to offense as well as the fine and precise execution of plays.
When the two meet, we will see what they exactly learned and if one team will reassert its mastery or if the other can finally vault over the other team that has lorded it over UAAP volleyball in the past six years.