UAAP volleyball Final Four keys to victory: FEU-Ateneo
This is the Final Four rematch from a season ago, but the odds have drastically changed after one year.
Far Eastern University now holds the twice-to-beat advantage over Ateneo in the matchup of the second and third seeds of the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament.
The Lady Tamaraws are heading into their 21st Final Four stint hell-bent on breaking the finals duopoly that Ateneo and La Salle have held for six years running.
FEU has a chance to walk its talk on Saturday when it faces Ateneo in the first Final Four matchup of Season 80.
Apart from De La Salle which has an eight-game winning streak, FEU is the hottest team in the UAAP riding a four-game unbeaten run going into the semifinals.
The Lady Tamaraws used that winning streak to finish the eliminations with a 10-4 record and edge out Ateneo for the second seed.
On the other end of the table, the Lady Eagles missed out on their last two games and slipped to a 9-5 card for the third seed.
And although both FEU and Ateneo waited until the last day of the eliminations to determine what seeds they got, the fact of the matter is the Lady Tamaraws have the distinct advantage when it comes to momentum.
The Lady Eagles bowed to University of the Philippines, a team whose nearest point to the Final Four was contending for the fourth spot, in their game prior to their three-set humbling against De La Salle while FEU has been nothing short of dominant in its last games.
Still, Ateneo captain Maddie Madayag believes they can turn things around in the Final Four as they attempt to force a third game between them and the Lady Tamaraws.
Ateneo last entered the Final Four without a twice-to-beat advantage in Season 76 during the Alyssa Valdez era and the Lady Eagles stunned La Salle in the championship round to win their first UAAP women’s volleyball title.
“This is not unfamiliar territory for us because we’ve been here during Season 76,” said Madayag in Filipino. “Of course we can’t be complacent because FEU is a really strong team right now.”
If Ateneo plans to get back in to winning shape, one Lady Eagle has to step up big time.
Jhoana Maraguinot was crucial for Ateneo in the first 12 games of the season as she averaged 15.83 points, but the fourth year hitter practically became an non-factor for the Lady Eagles in their last two games.
In the moment Ateneo needed her the most, Maraguinot virtually disappeared as she scored just 13 points combined in the final two games of elimination.
This left Kat Tolentino to single-handedly carry the Lady Eagles on her shoulders as she averaged 15 points a game in the two losses against UP and La Salle.
Out of the shadows
There’s no doubt that Bernadeth Pons has one of the best supporting casts in the UAAP this season.
Backing up Pons throughout the whole season are Celine Domingo, Toni Rose Basas, Heather Guino-o, and Jeanette Villareal.
Pons has been solid for the Lady Tamaraws, averaging 15.35 points a game that put her as the fourth-highest scorer in the league.
Basas and Domingo were dependable second options for FEU as they averaged 11.71 and 11.14 points, respectively, while Villareal and Guino-o combined for more than 12 points per outing.
Although those numbers are fairly decent in the eliminations, the Lady Tamaraws could do better in the Final Four where they have a chance to send the Lady Eagles packing after just one game.
Apart from the obvious championship, the Lady Tamaraws want nothing more than break the six-year string of Ateneo-La Salle finals.
FEU head coach George Pascua believes it’s high time for them to take a crack at the title and his players have mirrored that desire.
“The pressure is always there, we’re always reminded that we should always breath in that pressure because if we don’t we will be thrown off track on what we should be doing,” said Pons in Filipino.
“We’ll just use that pressure in a positive way so we won’t have a hard time playing,” said Basas.
“We can’t waste this opportunity because we’ve already started on this journey, we should work doubly hard if we want to get into another level,” said Guino-o in Filipino. “We just have to think that the pressure will help us, we’ll handle it the right way so it can help us reach our goal.”
As for Ateneo, giving up is not an option.
Despite the back-to-back losses that hampered their journey to the Final Four, the Lady Eagles remained steadfast on the task at hand.
“We’re going to be confident despite the loss,” said Madayag. “We just need to play happy. Everyone has their bad days and I’m sure my teammates and I will bounce back and these losses aren’t something that would bring us down. If not, this will be encouragement for us to do better.”
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