by Jerome Lagunzad
Games Wednesday (The Arena, San Juan City)
2 p.m. — UST vs Adamson (Men’s)
(Knockout match, No. 4 spot)
Game Saturday (Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. — FEU vs Ateneo (Men’s)
4 p.m. — FEU vs Ateneo (Women’s)
There’s no such thing as a no-bearing match for two-time defending champion La Salle, especially when the bragging rights over archrival Ateneo is on the line.
The Lady Spikers denied the Lady Eagles’ bid for a Top 2 finish behind a dominant 26-24, 25-17, 25-19 victory last night as the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball elimination round drew to a close inside a jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.
Reigning league MVP Majoy Baron, Kim Dy and Tin Tiamzon took turns in taking up the cudgels while vastly-improving setter Michelle Cobb kept her teammates on the same page and backup Norielle Ipac provided timely hits as La Salle stamped its class over Ateneo infront of more than 23, 200 fans mostly clad in green and blue.
The Lady Spikers, already assured of the top spot and a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four round, closed out the elims with a 12-2 record and completed a season-sweep of the Lady Eagles following a four-set victory in the first round last March 3.
“It was a fight for pride as usual,” said the diminutive Cobb, who made 24 excellent sets and tallied seven points. “It’s also a (confidence) booster for us going to the semis (against National University).
The loss proved a bitter pill to swallow for Ateneo, which suffered its fifth setback in 14 matches and slipped down to third spot, allowing host Far Eastern University to cement its hold of the second spot and claim the remaining twice-to-beat edge.
The Lady Tamaraws bounced back from a third-set meltdown in style to foil the Lady Bulldogs, 25-21, 25-22, 16-25, 20-25.
After taking the first two sets behind a balanced attack, FEU apparently lost steam in the third set but drew fine plays from veterans Bernadeth Pons, Heather Guino-o and Toni Basas to scuttle the NU’s comeback bid.
FEU racked up its third straight win and improved to its record to 10-4 overall, siezing the Final Four bonus for the first time since Season 71.
“Nakuhanan kami ng set nu’ng third pero sabi nga ni coach (George Pascua), walang titigil. Ayun, naging effective naman,” said Pons, who highlighted her 17-point offensive explosion with the game-winning drop shot.
NU, which got off to a sizzling 6-1 start in the tourney, hobbled its way to the semis as the fourth-seed with an even 7-7 slate and will need to overcome a twice-to-beat advantage enjoyed by top-ranked La Salle.
In men’s play, formidable NU finally put one over three-time defending champion Ateneo, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, to claim the top spot in the Final Four round.
Bryan Bagunas led their attack with 19 points, 18 of them off kill, while Madzlan Gampong added 13 points all from the offensive end, capped by the game-clinching crosscourt kill off Blue Eagles libero Manuel Sumanguid, as the Bulldogs got the job done in one hour and 48 minutes of play.
Not only did the morale-boosting victory snap its 13-game losing streak to Ateneo dating back to Season 77, NU wrapped up its elimination round campaign on top with a 12-2 mark in a tie with FEU which eliminated La Salle, 23-25, 25-26, 28-26, 25-20, earlier.
However, NU had the superior quotient and will be armed with a twice-to-beat advantage in the semis—for the third straight year—against the winner of the playoff match for the No. 4 spot between University of Santo Tomas and Adamson.
Four-time league MVP Marck Espejo led all scorers with 23 points in a losing cause for Ateneo, which slipped down to third spot and will need to overhaul a twice-to-win handicap against FEU in the other semis pairing.