MANILA, Philippines — Showing great resolve, Ateneo recovered from two sets down to shock Far Eastern University, 23-25, 19-25, 25-17, 28-26, 15-13, and booked its first finals trip in 34 years in the UAAP men’s volleyball Saturday at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
Marck Espejo came alive in the last three sets to lead the Blue Eagles’ comeback as he finished with a game-high 24 points.
“We almost gave up,” admitted Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro. “First two sets, the maturity wasn’t there because most of my players are still rookies and sophomores.”
The Tamaraws, last season’s losing finalist, seemed on their way to forcing a winner-take-all match after leading, 23-21, in the fourth set before shooting themselves on the foot with costly unforced errors as the Blue Eagles capitalized and extended the contest to a deciding set.
FEU’s clumsy showing continued into the fifth set as the Tams, uncharacteristic of a veteran team that has been to the championship round five of the last six years, folded under pressure as Ateneo grabbed the opportunity.
A service error by Raymond Bautista put the Eagles at match point, 14-12, before Joshua Villanueva blocked Gregorio Dolor to seal the emotional win and prompt a frenzied celebration from a packed crowd.
“We relied on our defense. They (FEU) were really looking to deny Espejo in the first two sets so we had to go to other options before going back to Espejo in the latter part,” added Almadro, whose team chalked up its 11th straight win heading into the final round where the Blue Eagles will face either defending champion National University or Adamson.
The other semifinals pairing starts on Wednesday with the Bulldogs holding a twice-to-beat advantage over the Falcons.
“Our mindset was really to go to the Finals, hopefully we continue to win.”
Skipper Karl dela Calzada paced the Tams with 15 points but had trouble with his service down the stretch. FEU blew three match points in the fourth set with the last on another unforced error.