UAAP Season 81 Final Four Preview: Ateneo Lady Eagles vs. FEU Lady Tamaraws

The Ateneo Lady Eagles were gunning for a seventh-straight UAAP women’s volleyball finals appearance last year. But their hopes ended when the second seed FEU Lady Tamaraws defeated them in four sets.

Fast forward a year later and the tables have turned. It is now the Lady Eagles with the twice-to-beat advantage against their counterparts from Morayta. However, Coach Oliver Almadro’s squad still cannot take last season’s runner-up lightly.

Looking back at their match-ups this season

The Lady Eagles won their first encounter in five sets. FEU was in control of the first two sets before Ateneo took the last three to clinch their second of 11 consecutive victories. They met again on April 3 with the top seed completing an elimination round sweep of the Lady Tamaraws in straight sets. FEU scored only ten points in set two while no Lady Tamaraw reached double figures in scoring.

Key players for the Lady Tamaraws

FEU fans are hoping that Celine Domingo is ready for the Final Four after sitting out some games due to non-volleyball fatigue. They will need her anticipation at the net to slow down Ateneo’s attempts, especially from Kat Tolentino. Having her in game shape gives FEU a scoring threat in the middle.

Heather Guino-o, Jerrili Malabanan, and Ivana Agudo should also find ways to score against Ateneo’s solid blocking scheme. The Lady Eagles’ defensive formation will offer gaps that FEU must exploit in order to force a rubber match. For that to happen, setters Kyle Negrito and Angel Cayuna should facilitate a variety of attacks against the Lady Eagles.

Key players for the Lady Eagles

This is the time that Tolentino must bring back her early-season form. She is Ateneo’s best option from the wing and a good game from her will bring the Lady Eagles to another Finals appearance. Of course, the blocking from Maddie Madayag and Bea de Leon should be on-point too. Likewise, Kim Gequillana and Dani Ravena should anchor their floor defense since FEU has a number of able hitters.

Deanna Wong must also be aware of where Domingo is at the net. If she can fool the FEU middle blocker with her sets, the Lady Eagles will have more success with their attack.

How can FEU win?

Coach George Pascua’s crew can neutralize Ateneo’s solid net defense by putting pressure from the service line. Their first point of attack must give receivers a hard time in making a good pass. It can also help the Lady Tamaraws where the Lady Eagles’ attack might be coming from. Likewise, they will not have much success by challenging the block straight on.

Aside from being aware of where the shorter blocker is, FEU must actively look for the side lines and the corners that Ateneo often keeps open. Finally, they must be fluid with their transitions especially from the service reception. They are the worst receiving team in the league and they won’t stand a chance if they start to get errors there.

How can Ateneo win?

Other than establishing their blocking, they must exploit their advantage at the middle with Madayag and De Leon. Wong can run some B quicks or running attacks to keep the FEU net minders in their toes. Also, Ponggay Gaston and Jules Samonte must convert their attempts to ease Tolentino’s burden to score even from the back row.

They should also be wary of the preferred tempo of FEU’s setters. Negrito likes fast and low sets for the quick kill while Cayuna is more comfortable with shoots to the wing spikers. Knowing the tendencies of the Lady Tamaraws’ playmakers will help them shut down their opponents at the net.

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