La Salle keeps UAAP crown in five-set thriller

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DE LA Salle University successfully defended its crown but not without a big scare from archrival Ateneo de Manila University.

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The Lady Spikers annexed their 10th title after outlasting the top seed Lady Eagles, 19-25, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10, to remain as the queens of Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball on Saturday at the jampacked Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Desiree Cheng came up with a crucial attack just when Ateneo was closing in from a 4-10 deficit in the fifth set while Kim Dy and Tin Tiamzon delivered the insurance points as La Salle weathered the Lady Eagles’ gallant stand to repeat as UAAP champions.

CHAMPS The Lady Spikers of De La Salle University celebrate after beating archrival Ateneo de Manila for their 10th UAAP women’s volleyball title on Saturday at the jampacked Smart Araneta Coliseum. PHOTO BY BOB DUNGO JR.

Dy topscored for La Salle with 19 points, 15 on attacks, while Tiamzon added 16. Graduating skipper Kim Fajardo also played big with 43 excellent sets and added four service aces.

Cheng, who was adjudged as the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP), added 12, none bigger than her huge attack late in the game while regular season MVP Majoy Baron contributed 10.

“This is one of the most difficult because I have a shallow bench this season,” said head coach Ramil de Jesus, who bagged his 10th UAAP title in 20 seasons with the Taft-based team.

“Those two losses with Ateneo (in the elimination), we filled the needs and focused on where we were lacking,” he added.

After coasting to a 21-25, 29-27, 25-22, 25-20 win in Game 1, La Salle was greeted by an inspired Ateneo squad in the first set to surrender a 25-19 win but came back strong in the second frame for a dominant 25-14 win.

The Lady Eagles, who swept the Lady Archers in the elimination round, appeared set on sending the series to a winner-take-all Game 3 after posting a 25-18 third set but again, La Salle responded with its own 25-18 to tie the match at 2-all.

Experience played a big role in the deciding fifth set as the Lady Spikers jumped to a 10-4 lead. But the Lady Eagles scored the next four points to threaten at 8-10.

Then Cheng delivered the most crucial point for La Salle this season with an attack at the baseline to stop the bleeding at 11-8. The Lady Spikers methodically protected the lead as Ateneo succumbed to pressure and fall short again.

“I’m happy we were able to win it for Ate Kim (Fajardo),” said Dy, last year’s Finals MVP.

Ateneo wins men’s volleyball crown
In the men’s finals, the Blue Eagles completed the title sweep after turning back National University (NU), 18-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18, 15-13, in Game 2 of their best-of-thee championship series.

Marck Espejo capped his Most Valuable Player (MVP) season with a block of Fauzi Ismail to clinch Ateneo’s 30th straight win, 16 in a row this season, to pocket its third straight UAAP crown.

“From the beginning we didn’t expect it to sweep,” said the jubilant Blue Eagles head coach Oliver Almadro, whose wards also took Game 1 in five sets, 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13.

“I admired my players’ maturity, their resiliency. They just believed they can do it. At first, it was really hard but I told there’s nothing impossible if you work hard,” he added.

Ismail paced the Bulldogs with 24 points but he failed to convert the points when NU needed it most.

Like in Game 1, the Bulldogs took a 2-1 set lead but failed to finish off the Blue Eagles in the fourth set.

From 10-13 deficit, NU rallied and scored the next three points in the fifth set to tie the game, 13-all.

But Rex Intal ended the drought for Ateneo with an attack and Espejo, the league’s four-time MVP, sealed the championship with a solid block of Ismail at the net that sent the blue and white squad in celebration at the center court.

“We followed three principles. How much we want it, how hard we will prepare for it and how much we will love each other,” said Almadro. “We’re just ready for the challenges.”

Espejo finished with a game-high 27 points, 25 on attacks, while Tony Koyfman, who was adjudged the series MVP, chipped in 11.

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