La Salle inches closer to UAAP crown

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Desiree Cheng of La Salle blocks against Jia Morado of Ateneo during Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series of the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament on Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. PHOTO BY BOB DUNGO JR.

De La Salle University finally ended Ateneo de Manila University’s invincibility this season. And it came when it mattered most.

The Lady Spikers overcame an error-filled game and opening-set loss to pull off a thrilling 21-25, 29-27, 25-22, 25-20 victory in Game 1 of their best-of-three championship series on Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, moving closer of nailing their 10th crown in the league.

Team captain Kim Fajardo, Desiree Cheng, last year’s Finals Most Valuable Player Kim Dy and Ernestine Tiamzon came through for La Salle during trying moments and provided the crucial points to finally beat the Lady Eagles this season and more importantly take a 1-0 lead in the series.

“There’s a “hugot” factor in this win. We didn’t beat them in the elimination round. We really want to defend the crown,” said Dy, who finished with 12 points. “But we can’t be too over confident (in Game 2). It will be a test of character.”


Fajardo was a picture of tenacity for the Lady Spikers, who were down big in the second set, 17-22, and were facing a possible 0-2 deficit, scoring on a couple aces to put her team back before Aduke Ogunsayan delivered the set winner to tie the game at 1-all.

“When we were down, I still have trust with my teammates,” said the graduating Fajardo who had 10 points, seven on services aces, and 37 excellent sets. “We really don’t one to lose this one.”

Tiamzon had a game-high 15 points for La Salle, which survived a 40-error outing. The Lady Eagles actually had 34 in the game.
B
ut in the match, the Lady Spikers made the right plays at the right time while Ateneo just couldn’t get its killer instincts back that were evident in their first two meetings in the elimination round.

Jhoana Marguinot had 16 points for the Lady Eagles, who were poised of sending the game to a fifth set after erecting an 18-15 lead. But Cheng and Tiamzon anchored La Salle’s fightback to take a 21-18 lead.

Then Fajardo unleashed one of her aces to finish off the No. 1 seed Lady Eagles in the match.

In the men’s Game 1 finals, Ateneo bounced back from a 1-2 set deficit to stun National University (NU), 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13, moving closer to sweeping the tournament and its third straight crown.

Marck Espejo and Rex Intal led the Blue Eagles’ comeback and provided the critical points in the fifth set as Ateneo stretched its winning streak to 29 games dating back last season.

“I always tell the players that NU is a great team. We don’t play with just pure talent. I told them to play with their hearts and their resilience showed. I can’t say anything less from my players,” said Blue Eagles head coach Oliver Almadro.

Espejo paced Ateneo with 29 points, 25 on attacks while Anthony Koyfman contributed 18 on a game where Intal was limited to just 11 in the five-set thriller.

Fauzi Ismail had 22 for the Bulldogs, who crawled out of an 8-13 deficit in the fifth set and tied it 13-all. But Ateneo held on and scored the last two points, the clincher coming from Intal’s block.

Bryan Bagunas added 19, 17 from attacks, for coach Dante Alinsurin’s squad, which failed to hold on a 20-18 lead in the first set as the Blue Eages finished strong to take a 1-0 lead.

NU recovered and took the next two sets but was relatively silent in the fourth set as Ateneo rode on Espejo’s attacks to send the game to a fifth set.

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