Ateneo drags La Salle to do-or-die match
MANILA, Philippines — The Ateneo squad hardly given a shot at the championship now stands close to ending an arch rival’s reign.
Showing tremendous fight in the clutch, the Lady Eagles survived La Salle’s furious comeback to triumph in an epic five-set thriller, 25-21, 25-23, 18-25, 16-25, 17-15, Wednesday and forge a do-or-die match for the UAAP women’s volleyball title at Mall of Asia Arena.
Alyssa Valdez, Amy Ahomiro and Michelle Morente carried Ateneo to another improbable win as the Lady Eagles spoiled the Lady Spikers’ bid to wrap up the series and claim their fourth straight crown.
The winner-take-all championship is set at 4 p.m. on Saturday also at MOA.
“In the last set, I told them to believe that they can win,” said Ateneo’s Thai coach Anusorn “Tai” Bundit, who speaks little English yet clearly got through his players with his now famous motivational phrase “Heart Strong.”
Valdez fired 19 of her 22 points off attacks as the newly crowned MVP got off to a fiery start to power the Lady Eagles to an unexpected 2-0 set lead in front of a crowd of over 18,000.
Stepping up in crucial stretches, Ahomiro fired 18 points, including a three-point cluster in the fifth set that pushed the Lady Eagles within a point, 11-12, after trailing at 8-12.
Gutsy rookie Morente also scored the last of her 18 markers on a kill that put the Lady Eagles at match point, 15-14, before the third-ranked squad clinched the match following a violation slapped on the Lady Spikers.
“Coach really instilled in us ‘Heart Strong,’” Valdez said after the Lady Eagles came back from four points down in the deciding set. “He kept saying that the fight isn’t over. We just played happy and our teamwork was there. Everyone played well and contributed.”
The Lady Spikers, though, weren’t happy with the final call, which match officials ruled as a setting violation and an illegal attack by a back row player.
A fiery Ara Galang exploded for 28 points as the former MVP got the Lady Spikers back to their dominant form that tied the match at two sets apiece.
Just when the Lady Eagles looked poised for a straight-set win, Galang took over starting with four straight attacks in the Lady Spikers’ 8-0 outburst that put them ahead, 18-12, on the way to claiming the third set at 25-18.
With Cyd Demecillo and Mika Reyes also coming to life, the Lady Spikers zoomed to a 10-4 start in the fourth for a 25-16 set win.
“I knew La Salle will come back because they have the experience,” said Valdez. “We also kind of doubted ourselves. We didn’t expect to be two sets up and we got rattled. But we played again as one team.”
The young Lady Eagles, who lost most of their stars to graduation, survived their fourth do-or-die match this season, including three straight in the stepladder semifinals.
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