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.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Looking at Ateneo's four-set win over DLSU

Looking at Ateneo’s four-set win over DLSU
by rick olivares

In the twelve years since I began to follow and cover the collegiate volleyball game in earnest, I’ve seen the Ateneo Lady Eagles in various stages of evolution.

They have gone from battling the University of the Philippines to stay out of seventh place (with National University the perennial cellar dweller). When you look at all three schools now, they are challenging for titles. Times sure have changed.

They have gone from mere nuisance highlighted when Angeli Tabaquero once angrily dismissed during one game, “Matatalo na lang tayo sa Ateneo pa!” to a bonafide UAAP and V-League champion with its players suiting up for the national team. Imagine that.

They also evolved only the men’s team, family, and friends watching them play in UP, FEU, and Ateneo into volleyball’s version of Ginebra – the crowd favorite.

And there’s this one that will perhaps stick as part of their “Heartstrong” mantra… the comeback girls.

Following the Lady Eagles’ first Final Four appearance in 2007 that featured Charo Soriano, Patty Taganas, and Karla Bello, the team brought in four talented rookies to start alongside holdovers Bea Pascual and Steph Gabriel – Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer, Dzi Gervacio, and Gretchen Ho. That first round of the 2008 season, they lost a number of five-setters. That was chalked up to the lack of experience.

Remember that first game in 2012 when they played NU that featured Dindin Santiago, Myla Pablo, and company? The Lady Bulldogs, with their manpower buildup were making noises. Lots that in fact. They quickly raced to a 2-sets-to-none lead and were dancing, pointing fingers, and taunting the Lady Eagles. Ateneo came back and won the last three sets.

Then there was that season where they ran the gauntlet of top-seeded teams to win their first title. They dispatched longtime tormentor Adamson in the first round of the playoffs. Took down NU in two in the semis then shocked La Salle that earned thrice-to-beat advantage for the championship.

There have been more thrilling comebacks since and now they can add that their first round win over FEU where they looked dead in the water and this incredible comeback victory over La Salle to take the top position after the first round of play.

Following the graduation of Alyssa Valdez and Amy Ahomiro, while most thought an era was over, a few, myself included, felt they were still very good. I knew there were still good enough to win something. After all, they had enough veterans with championship experience, a precious commodity if there is one. Further to that I felt they just needed to define roles, get some returning players valuable big game experience, and well, stay healthy.

If you watched them during the last V-League Collegiate Conference, during the preliminaries, the Lady Eagles went 0-2 including a three-set loss to San Sebastian where they were poised to extend the match when they held a 22-10 lead in the third set. They only scored on more point the rest of the way to lose. However, they won their next two including one over undefeated NU. They defeated TIP in a playoff to enter the quarterfinals. They faced more adversity in the next round losing to UP and FEU. Their sole triumph was over UST that was also without key players. In the semis, they bundled out favored FEU in two matches. Once in the finals against the Lady Bulldogs, they had a chance in the first game but blew it. NU prevailed in two matches.

Think about it. Bea De Leon and Mich Morente were not even at 60% capacity then. Jhoana Maraguinot played only two matches. Maddie Madayag and Katrina Tolentino didn’t even suit up.

Look at them now… still surprising everyone and I guess that is good.

Now what does that win over La Salle say?

They are a resilient bunch however more work must be done. The Lady Spikers were at set point when the Lady Eagles scored five straight points highlighted by Morente’s back-to-back kills to steal the opening set.

In the second set, La Salle was leading 23-18 when Tolentino and Kim Gequillana conspired for another incredible comeback for a two-sets to none lead.

Even on a day where they didn’t play their best – libero Gyzelle Tan and Maddie Madayag didn’t play well although they had their moments – they found a way to win. Kim Gequillana and Ana Gopico played well in spot duty while Bea De Leon came alive in the clutch. As Kat Tolentino gains more experience and confidence, she’ll be even better. And Jia Morado was her usual superb self.

They hoped for a good start but instead they got a good finish. That’s not bad. While this season, they have started slow, you cannot keep expecting for lightning to strike thrice or more. That’s playing with fire.

Mich Morente is quietly becoming one of the best players in the league.
Some have thought she was suspect defensively. The truth is, she’s better than you think. This tournament, Mich ranks behind FEU’s Bernadeth Pons’ three triple doubles (double figures in scoring, receiving, and digging) with two of her own with a couple of more misses.

During the aforementioned V-League Collegiate Conference, from the time Ateneo played FEU in the semi-finals, Morente averaged a triple-double as well.

Everyone was anointing Jhoana Maraguinot as the Heir Apparent to Alyssa Valdez, but Morente has quietly slipped into that role.

Her performance underscores the way the Lady Eagles have snuck into this tournament – stealthily like a shark. Now the lid of secrecy is off. It would be interesting to see how teams adjust to them in the second round and if the Lady Eagles can find consistency they desire.

Conversely, what can we glean off the DLSU Lady Spikers in spite of this loss?
Man, they are damn good. That’s not faint praise. If they took that first and second set, we will be writing a different column all together. La Salle tried to stop Maraguinot and Ateneo tried to stop Kim Dy yet both teams still have plenty of weapons.

Playing Kim Fajardo and Michelle Cobb is such a tantalizing move. Methinks, we will see that again. Maybe in the Final Four or even the Finals.

I cannot put much stock into this because it could have come down to a few things that could have changed the outcome. The second round is where teams adjust. Nevertheless, this must gnaw at them. We saw how they bounced back from the loss to UP. For sure, they’ll be back.

The season by no means is over. Despite the big wins, all this has earned Ateneo a first round lead. There is still a lot of volleyball to be played. It does give them some breathing space and much needed confidence to pull things off.

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