Ateneo de Manila University booked the first Final Four berth after weathering the young and feisty National University, 25-14, 24-26, 25-17, 25-19, Sunday in the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament at the Big Dome.
The Lady Eagles marched into their 10th straight post season appearance with their 10th straight win after 11 games. Ateneo bagged its ninth semis stint in a row, excluding Season 77 when the Lady Eagles advanced into the Finals outright after sweeping the elimination round.
It was a challenging game for the Lady Eagles as the Lady Bulldogs stole the second set despite getting pummeled in the opening frame. Ateneo's veteran composure, solid net defense and balance scoring got them through NU's determined fight.
"'Yung game namin today medyo slow kami kasi alam nyo naman law of averages, so I guess ito yun. Sana we peak at the right time. Marami pa rin kaming adjustments na dapat gawin, marami pa rin kaming dapat na i-perfect sa ginagawa namin. We really have to work harder pa," said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro.
Veteran setter Deanna Wong played a superb game orchestrating Ateneo's fluid offense that resulted in a balanced scoring for the Lady Eagles, who had five players in double digits. Wong tallied 33 excellent sets that helped Ateneo score 43 attack points.
Jules Samonte and Kat Tolentino posted 13 points each and combined for 22 spikes while Maddie Madayag had got 12 markers highlighted by five kill blocks for Ateneo. Bea De Leon and Ponggay Gaston scored 10 apiece for the Lady Eagles.
Ateneo broke a 14-14 deadlock in the fourth set with a four-point barrage before taking a 20-15 lead only to see NU fightback to breathe down its neck, 20-18, on a Princess Robles ace. The Lady Eagles countered with a closing 5-1 scoring spurt.
NU went on a 4-0 blast in the second frame to take a 22-19 lead before Ateneo made a rally of its own to move at set point, 24-23.
Ivy Lacsina forced a deuce before Joni Chavez scored an ace to give the Lady Bulldogs the set point advantage. Lacsina sealed the set win with a hit to tie the match at one frame apiece.
The Lady Bulldogs suffered their eighth loss in 11 outings and formally bowed out of the semis race.
Rookies Lacsina and Robles registered 13 points each and combined for 23 of NU's 38 attack points while rookie libero Jennifer Nierva had 26 digs and 30 excellent receptions in a losing cause.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles