Final 4 set
On the day University of Santo Tomas ended a four-year Final Four drought in dramatic fashion, Ateneo showed its readiness for the postseason with an impressive demolition of its bitter rival.
The Lady Eagles got an unlikely lift from rookie Jules Samonte to wallop the La Salle Lady Spikers, 12-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19, on Saturday to clinch top spot heading into the Final Four of the 79th UAAP women’s volleyball tournament at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Stepping up in the absence of top hitter Jho Maraguinot, who was rested in the battle for No. 1, Samonte fired 10 kills to backstop veterans Michelle Morente and Bea De Leon as the Lady Eagles finished the elimination round with a 12-2 record.
“It’s something fulfilling for the team because not a lot of people expected us to come out on top, let alone reach the semifinals that’s why we’re really happy,” said Ateneo skipper Jia Morado.
A few hours earlier, the Tigresses kept their season alive with a thrilling 20-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-12 victory over the National U Lady Bulldogs, who missed out on the Final Four for the second straight season.
UST will need to overcome La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals on April 22 at Smart Araneta Coliseum. Ateneo will also be armed with the same advantage as it battles Far Eastern U in the other semifinal clash on April 23 at Mall of Asia Arena.
Cherry Rondina poured all of her 22 points from attacks including the kill that pushed UST at matchpoint, while EJ Laure chipped in 22 points on top of 19 digs and eight excellent receptions.
The Tigresses collapsed on the floor, crying tears of joy after reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
“We’re just happy we reached our goal,” said Laure, who bucked a sprained ankle late in the match.
It was another stunning exit for the Lady Bulldogs, who were also shown the door last season despite boasting a lineup led by the towering Jaja Santiago.
For Ateneo, it was Samonte who made the most out of that opportunity, finding gaps in the La Salle defense in the last two sets.
“We’re really proud of her,” Morado said of Samonte. “We’ve been waiting for her to get the chance to play because we know she can deliver anytime. In training she works really hard and to see it translate into the game really makes us proud.”
Samonte said she was just making the most out of her chance since she was not fielded in Ateneo’s first round win against La Salle.
“I wanted to experience the feeling of playing against them,” said the 18-year-old rookie out of La Salle Zobel. “It feels great to be rewarded for all the handwork in training.”
The Lady Spikers shot themselves on the foot with 36 errors.