The winner of the first match in the stepladder semifinals of the UAAP Season 84 women’s volleyball tournament would get thrown into a showdown with a squad sheltered by a playoff bonus.
It’s a tough order, but Ateneo got a lot of practice.
Twice in the opening two sets, the defending champion faced late deficits. Twice in those frames, the Blue Eagles came back to frustrate University of Santo Tomas (UST).
“We just told ourselves, we needed to finish it strong … and rely on our fundamentals to do it right,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro.
Now it’s off to try beating La Salle twice.
The Blue Eagles used two steel-nerved finishes in the first two sets to deflate UST, 25-23, 25-23, 25-20, on Tuesday at Mall of Asia Arena to extend their tournament reign into a dream matchup against their fierce rivals.
Ateneo, which shoehorned its way to the No. 4 seed via a sudden-death KO win against Adamson, certainly seemed like it wanted the win more.
In both opening sets, UST bucked strong runs by its foes to push the Blue Eagles behind, 22-23. But mixing up accurate hitting with solid defense, the Blue Eagles strung up three straight points each time to knock the Tigresses down, closing out each set with emphatic kill-blocks.
After that, UST looked winded.
The Tigresses fought back after a strong 3-0 start by the Eagles in the third set and stayed in step until midway through that frame before Faith Nisperos fueled a sterling run that produced six match points.
“It’s really a team effort, especially in the endgame. I couldn’t do this without my teammates,” said Nisperos. “It was a matter of finishing it right and, of course, we keep repeating to ourselves: faith, trust, courage.”
UST, the third seed, bit off two of those match points before Nisperos struck one down the line to put an end to the match.
Ateneo will have just a day of rest and preparation before it plunges into a showdown against No. 2 La Salle, with the Eagles playing their third straight no-tomorrow match. INQ
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