Heart-strong Ateneo bags volleyball crown
Video by INQUIRER.net’s NOY MORCOSO III
MANILA, Philippines — When her school needed it the most, Alyssa Valdez grabbed hold of the hammer and lowered it hard—leaving no room for doubt that this time, Ateneo is the new queen of volleyball.
The Lady Eagles carved out a straight-set shocker to end the La Salle Lady Spikers’ three-year reign, 25-23, 26-24, 25-21, and capture their first UAAP women’s volleyball crown yesterday at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.
Showing the audacity that made them unlikely finalists, the Lady Eagles overcame the Lady Spikers’ incredible thrice-to-beat advantage to become the only second team in league history to pull off the feat.
For one last time, the Lady Eagles defied the odds behind the solid plays of Season and Finals MVP Alyssa Valdez in the do-or-die Game 4 in front of a crowd of 21,314.
“It has yet to sink in, even after the championship point,” said an incredulous Valdez.
“What worked for us was there was no pressure. No one really expected us to be here.”
The rebuilding Ateneo squad lost a handful of veterans to graduation, yet it’s this ultimate underdogs who survived a total of five knockout games, including three straight in the stepladder semifinals.
“I just told them if you believe, you can win,” said Thai coach Anusorn “Tai” Bundit, who speaks little English and yet steered the Lady Eagles to the crown on his first year.
Valdez starred in the historic romp with 21 points, the last three capping the Lady Eagles’ dominant third set where they surprisingly zoomed to a 19-10 advantage.
It’s the second set, though, that summarized the third-ranked Lady Eagles’ unlikely run to the top against the once invincible Lady Spikers
Down by as many as seven points, 10-17, the Lady Eagles grindingly survived set point, 21-24, to tie it at 24-24, before a Valdez kill and an Amy Ahomiro block on La Salle’s Mika Reyes gave Ateneo a 26-24 win.
In the first frame, the Lady Eagles also rallied from a 17-20 deficit to reach match point, 24-21, on an Ella de Jesus service ace.
Although the Lady Spikers tried to stay in the game, 24-23, the Lady Eagles wrapped up the opener with a Valdez hit.
“Everything that we worked hard for was worth it,” said Valdez.
“The goal was just to reach the Final Four but here we are.”
Indeed, no one imagined that the simple, but now famous team mantra “Heart Strong” coined by Bundit, would motivate the Lady Eagles to overachieve and bring the school’s first title in the event since joining the league in 1978.
Moreover, the Lady Eagles also snapped the stranglehold not just of La Salle, but also of University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University, as the only three schools that have ruled the sport in the last 30 years.
“I’m very happy,” said Bundit. “It was all about unity and heart strong.”
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