Reaction: Ateneo Lady Eagles reclaim the UAAP women’s volleyball throne

Faith, trust, courage.

Three words with no concrete definition, given meaning by the Ateneo Lady Eagles throughout UAAP Season 81.

When their backs were against the wall after losing to the FEU Lady Tamaraws, they had unwavering trust that they can win the rubber match. Every time critics pointed out their flaws and weaknesses, they kept on fighting courageously. When they score, they point their fingers to heaven, signifying their faith in God and faith in being one.

The virtues instilled to them by Coach Oliver Almadro guided them to the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball championship over the UST Golden Tigresses. But their narrative is an inspiration for those who are rising up from adversity.

Their story will appeal to those who are bouncing back from failure even though they’ve given their best. Their journey touches the hearts of those who are rediscovering their greatness at work, at school, or at home. The happy ending motivates those who believe that there is success beyond sacrifice.

They reclaim the throne that was once theirs four seasons ago. More importantly, their performance in Game 3 sent a strong message to their challengers.

Not today.

Welcome to the Ateneo block party

They have been the top blocking team in the UAAP for the past two seasons. But the party started at the net before the main celebration. The Lady Eagles had 14 kill blocks in the match and that doesn’t count the attacks that they bothered because their defensive wall has been well established.

Surprisingly, Jules Samonte is tied with Maddie Madayag with most blocks at four. But you can also credit Ateneo’s adjustment on floor defense for having 11 more kill blocks than the Golden Tigresses. The Lady Eagles have guarded the sidelines that UST exploited in Game 1 which gives their opponents less angles to work with.

Those changes could be the explanation why Sisi Rondina needed 50 attempts to get 17 attack points. Likewise, Eya Laure only had nine out of 37 tries. They studied UST’s movements and devised a game plan based on how the Golden Tigresses will play.

Game of errors

Looking at it from another perspective, UST threw this game away. Twenty-nine errors in three sets is too much. That’s more than a set of free points given to the Lady Eagles. They had 13 unforced errors in the first set alone, some of which were committed during Ateneo’s 8-0 run. It also negated their 37-27 advantage in attacks.

But while Ateneo’s defense prompted them to commit some errors, their inexperience could be a factor. Game 1’s pressure is different from Game 3 and most of UST’s rookies folded except for Janine Balcorta. Laure’s display can be considered sub-par as well because we have seen what she’s capable of.

They had a chance to close things out in Game 2 after winning the second set. However, it wasn’t meant to be. May they use this set back as fuel to come back stronger in Season 82. Until then, the #KamiNaman fulfillment will have to wait.

No shame for the Golden Tigresses

UST had the second most disastrous off-season after the NU Lady Bulldogs. EJ Laure did not come back because she was not yet in shape while Tin Francisco did not suit up due to an ACL injury. The problems compounded when Milena Alessandrini went down in their first round game against the Lady Tamaraws.

But instead on sulking on their misfortunes, the Golden Tigresses used those to pull together and play beautiful volleyball using the modern rotation system. The result? They won ten of their next 12 games since Alessandrini’s injury including Game 1 of the Finals.

In that process, Rondina and Laure became the top scoring and spiking duo in the league. Kecelyn Galdones gained confidence in the middle while Ysa Jimenez emerged as their service specialist. Alina Bicar also developed into the setter than can run UST’s offense with precision.

With a year of experience under their belt, the Golden Tigresses are legitimate contenders next season. Still, Rondina’s departure will be a huge void to fill not only in offense but in terms of leadership and heart as well.

Story book ending for De Leon, Madayag, and Gequillana

We can finally say that Bea De Leon doesn’t regret returning to the Lady Eagles for her fifth year. Simply put, this wouldn’t have happened without her. Her feistiness after every point made is her way of rallying her teammates for the fight. Likewise, it would be easier to break Ateneo’s wall at the net if she wasn’t there.

Meanwhile, Madayag’s individual talent has been finally recognized when she was given the 2nd Best Middle Blocker Award. She is the anchor of the Ateneo net defense this season. Let’s not forget the new UAAP record she set by having 11 kill blocks against the Golden Tigresses in their second round duel.

Finally, redemption for Gequillana who is the only player that has been part of all Ateneo’s championships so far. Her shoulder injury prompted Coach Oliver Almadro to convert her from utility spiker to libero and she held her ground. She is the sixth best service receiver in the league with a 40.57% efficiency rate.

Victory on both sides for Coach Almadro

We end with the man who introduced those guiding principles. He is now a four-time UAAP volleyball champion and one of the few that has won in both the men’s and the women’s divisions. Those animated and often immitated coaching huddles finally amounted to a title.

But if he led the likes of Marck Espejo, Rex Intal, and Ish Polvorosa to three straight titles, can he do the same with the Lady Eagles? Only time will tell. For now, let them cherish the championship that they haven’t tasted since when Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, and Denden Lazaro were still donning the Ateneo uniform.