Ateneo repeats over La Salle, takes No. 1 spot

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EJ Laure of the UST Tigresses PHOTO BY BOB DUNGO JR.Ateneo de Manila University reasserted its mastery over defending champion De La Salle University, 12-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19, to claim the top spot in the Final Four round of the Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball tournament on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.The Lady Eagles bucked a slow start and survived another game without top scorer Jhoana Maraguinot (rest) to finish the elims with a 12-2 card and face Far Eastern University (FEU) in the Final Four round.

The Lady Archers settled for the No. 2 ranking after finishing with an 11-3 slate and will face University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the semis, which will start on April 22.

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Michelle Morente and Bea de Leon led Ateneo with 14 points. Head coach Tai Bundit also drew a solid effort from rookie Jules Samonte, who had 10 markers in the game.

“I’m not surprised with her (Samonte) performance. She’s one of the hardworking players in the team,” said Lady Eagles’ assistant coach Sherwin Meneses.

Kim Dy led La Salle with 15 while Desiree Cheng and Major Baron chipped in 13 and 11markers, respectively, for the Lady Archers who also dropped a four-setter to Ateneo in the first round.

Meanwhile University of Santo Tomas (UST) dug deep to score a thrilling come-from-behind 20-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-12 victory over National University (NU) to complete the Final Four cast.

Christine Francisco and Carla Sandoval provided the extra lift for the Tigresses as mainstay Mary Dominique Pacres struggled to find her rhythm and together with Cherry Ann Rondina, Marivic Meneses and EJ Laure, UST pulled off the impossible to finish the elimination round with a 9-5 win-loss mark.

The Tigresses returned to the Final Four stage for the first time in four years as they booted out Jaja Santiago and the Lady Bulldogs in the semis for the second straight season.

“We just grind it out. We’re lucky to be able to get the result we wanted,” said UST head coach Kungfu Reyes, whose victory spoiled the 30-point performance of Santiago and the birthday of NU coach Roger Gorayeb.

“It could have been a fitting present for coach Roger but we worked hard for it. Now, next step for us is to overachieve. From sixth place last season, we’re now third. But we won’t stop here,” Reyes added.

Laure paced the Tigresses with 22 points, 18 on attacks, but she tweaked her foot late in the game. Rondina also finished with 22 points, all in attacks.

Francisco was a revelation for UST with 11 including two blocks while Sandoval chipped in three, two were aces that helped the España-based squad to press on after Pacres was held down to four markers.

“They just waited for their time and it happened today,” said Reyes on Francisco and Sandoval.

UST was headed to another playoff game for NU after losing the first two sets but Rondina and Laure anchored the Tigresses to victory in the third and fourth sets.

The Tigresses were in full control in the fifth set, 12-8, but NU scored the next three to threaten at 11-12. An error by Santiago in the next play killed the Lady Bulldogs’ momentum and Rondina’s attack made it 14-12 though Laure had a bad landing in that play.

Pacres sealed the win with a powerful strike at the side, sparking a celebration for UST and leaving Santiago and NU in tears.

In the men’s side, Ateneo completed the 14-game sweep of the elimination round with a 25-17, 25-21, 25-16 win over NU with three-time Most Valuable Player Mark Espejo leading the Blue Eagles with 16 points despite playing with a fever.

Ateneo earned a spot in the best-of-three finals as it awaits the survivor of the stepladder semis. Far Eastern University downed UST, 25-23, 25-18, 25-18, to finish third with 8-6.

The Tigers dropped to 6-8 but they will meet the Tamaraws again in the first match of the stepladder with the winner meeting the Bulldogs (12-2), who hold a twice-to-beat advantage for finishing No. 2.

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