Three-peat seeking Blue Eagles, Bulldogs open Finals series
Expect fireworks when two-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila and National University clash in the opener of the 79th UAAP men's volleyball best-of-three Finals.
Three-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila and National University begin their fourth straight Finals showdown on Tuesday in Game 1 of the 79th UAAP men’s volleyball tournament best-of-three series at the Big Dome.
Game time is at 12:00 noon and will air live over ABS-CBN S+A Channel 23, ABS-CBN S+A HD Channel 166 and via livestream.
The Blue Eagles swept the 14-game elimination round to punch an outright berth in the Finals – Ateneo’s fourth straight championship appearance.
“That 14-0 (in the eliminations) is now history. We are in the Finals but the job is not yet done,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro.
The Katipunan-based squad silenced NU, 25-17, 25-21, 25-16, to end the elims last April 8. It was the Blue Eagles’ eight straight win against the Bulldogs in a string of head-to-head victories since Season 77.
But Ateneo is coming off a long rest, almost a month removed from action. The Blue Eagles had a 24-day layoff that extended because of the change of opening day schedule from April 29 to May 2 in deference to the country's hosting of the 2017 ASEAN Summit.
This is the opening NU wants to exploit in the Finals.
“Malaking advantage sa amin, kasi medyo pag player ka kasi, pag na-feel mo ‘yung laro talaga, tuloy-tuloy na ‘yun eh,” said Bulldogs coach Dante Alinsunurin, whose wards trail Ateneo 1-2 in their Finals head-to-head.
“Pag natigil ka, alam mo na, kakalawangin or mag-iisip ka ng mga bagay na negative or positive na makaka-apekto siya sa inyo, sa performance niyo, sa team niyo,” Alinsunurin added.
Ateneo ace and three-time Most Valuable Player Marck Espejo admitted that they are at a disadvantage in terms of competitive action compared to the Bulldogs, who needed two games in the stepladder semifinals series against Far Eastern University, but the Blue Eagles had a more time to prepare than the Bulldogs.
“Kami rin naman tulu’y tuloy ang (paglalaro) wala nga lang ‘yung ambience ng court, na may kalaban at ingay ng mga tao sa court,” said Espejo. “Pero sa training naman lagi kaming may tune up, kalaban namin lagi ang Cignal.”
Aside from Espejo, Ateneo boasts of a solid crew spearheaded by graduating players Rex Intal and Josh Villanueva, newcomer 6-foot-8 Tony Koyfman, skipper Karl Baysa and veteran setter Ish Polvorosa.
NU will bank on scorer Bryan Bagunas, Fauzi Ismail, Madzlan Gampong and James Natividad.
Game 2 of the Finals is on May 6 while Game 3, if necessary is on May 10.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles