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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Looking at the NU Lady Bulldogs’ win over the Ateneo Lady Eagles

Looking at NU’s win over Ateneo
by rick olivares

It was Ateneo’s turn to land with a thud following a four-set loss to National University – 25-17, 25-13, 19-25, 29-27.

Any thoughts of NU having no defense in their opening day triumph – where they struggled – against the University of the East was quickly dispelled. The Lady Bulldogs not only re-grouped but they also possess the singular most devastating weapon in collegiate volleyball in Jaja Santiago.

The Lady Eagles couldn’t do much against the stratospheric Santiago, who finished with 26 points, when she’s at the front of the net. And they paid for it in the endgame.

In the first set shocker where Ateneo seemed to forget how to receive, to hit, and to bring their game, Santiago scored – what – NU’s first six points on blocks or devastating spikes that everyone knows was coming. Then when NU rallied from eight points down in the fourth and final set, all the final points came from Santiago as setter Jasmine Nabor kept feeding her the ball. Why not? The Lady Eagles couldn’t stop her much as she was only turned back thrice in the match. Everything else Santiago hammered registered for a point.

This time around it was Ateneo’s turn to wonder after making look UST silly on opening day.

It’s a good thing they won the third set and nearly took the fourth had it been for bad decisions made on offense (not to mention a crucial service error and mis-hit) or else this would have been a devastating loss. By hanging tough in the end, they know they can do better. But here’s the rub. One loss is still big considering as many as six teams are vying for Final Four slots. You do not want to fall behind where you cannot control your fate.

Here’s what I thought about Ateneo.

There was a startling lack of concentration in the first two sets.
This was a big game and they looked good in the very first service where they blocked Aiko Urdas three consecutive times. When the ball was moved to the middle, Santiago just hammered it down and she let out an emphatic whoop. Stop that, she seemed to tell her team’s long time UAAP tormentors.

When the Lady Eagles settled down in the third set, they played better. Much better. But spotting NU a two set lead is difficult. This isn’t their old foe from years ago with that out of place swagger.

I thought that head coach Anusorn Bundit’s insistence to not go to the bench hurt the team when he clearly needed some new ideas on both ends of the court. He finally pulled the trigger in the second set but sparingly I might add. They did better once others rotated in and out.

The team is still looking for that consistent fount of points; a leader to strap the team on her back if you will. Jia Morado is that as team captain. You have to admire her being vocal, her talking to teammates, and playing her heart out on both ends. But at the end of the day, she isn’t the one scoring. She provides the means to do so; someone has to finish it.

It wasn’t until the third set when they strung up three consecutive points. And we saw players alternate in providing that. Mich Morente at one point then Jho Maraguinot then Bea De Leon then Kat Tolentino.

Every team needs one – La Salle has Kim Dy, UST has Cherry Rondina, UP has Isa Molde, NU has Santiago, UE has Shaya Adorador, Adamson has Jema Galanza, and FEU has Bernadeth Pons. I believe it is Maraguinot for Ateneo and she has the tools.

Kat Tolentino is getting better.
She packed more wallop in her spikes in this game. If she can get a little more elevation and spring in her legs, those spikes of hers will be more devastating. But she’s gaining confidence with every game.

Bea De Leon is rounding out into a really terrific all-around player.
The team’s emotional leader I’ll say. She could back it up from day one. The spread the wealth offense shows what she can do.

And fourth, Ateneo needs that killer instinct.
They were about to blow out NU in the third set but the Lady Bulldogs came back to come within six. They spotted NU a seven-point lead but gave it up with an endgame collapse.

Let’s turn now to the NU Lady Bulldogs.
Well, they were fired up. They sure received a stern message about their lackluster opening day play. No such performance this time around.

They didn’t fold.
This was their first win over Ateneo since I believe Season 76. Even prior to their elimination round sweep of the Lady Eagles that previous campaign, they would fold. And they eventually also did fold at the worst possible time in the Final Four against the Lady Eagles.

They nearly did again this match as they were down by eight in the fourth set. Although recent history has shown us that the team that rallies from two sets down to forge a fifth set more oft than not falls flat in the deciding frame there’s no telling where this might have gone. But that is moot as NU staved off a collapse of their own.

It is Roger Gorayeb’s belief for his team to realize their title ambitions, they have to hurdle Ateneo (and La Salle). One down.

There was better play all around.
Joy Doromal played better and Audrey Paran wasn’t summoned much until the third set when NU faltered. Jasmine Nabor was damn good. Aiko Urdas is finally playing well. And Jorelle Singh for all her inconsistency is a weapon to contend with when Santiago rotates out.

Jaja Santiago is playing at a MVP-level.
She scored 21 against UE and 26 against a supposedly better defending team. I don’t think she’s had a service error just yet (I could be wrong about this though). Her service has been so much better – low and difficult to receive. Furthermore, she also did it on defense.

Jasmine Nabor makes this team go.
We sung her platitudes since the last V-League season, And she’s the real deal. She can set up her teammates, she can block, and she can sure hit. I recall in years past, NU head coach Roger Gorayeb would ask his other setters why do you keep giving the ball to someone else when you have Santiago in front? Take advantage of her presence in front.

It sure helps when NU has better reception this game. And when NU was in dire need of points, Nabor went to Santiago on every single play.

NU has the opportunity to go 3-0 this weekend when they take on Adamson while Ateneo will have its hands full against FEU that stayed behind to watch their game. It would be interesting to see how the Lady Eagles respond to this bit of adversity.

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