The last time three-peat-seeking Ateneo and first-time finalist National University met, it drew a season best crowd of 7,624. Expect a much bigger turnout in their much-anticipated rematch at the Mall of Asia Arena today.
The Lady Eagles and the Lady Bulldogs face off again in today’s Game One of the best-of-three title series for the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 First Conference crown with the former hoping to bank on their poise and experience the latter raring to flaunt their superb all-around game.
“It’s going to be an exciting series, believe me,” said Ateneo coach Roger Gorayeb, who steered the Loyola-based belles to two straight V-League championships, in Filipino.
Though a first timer in this kind of pressure-packed series, the Lady Bulldogs remain upbeat of their title chances.
“It’s going to be a tough series, this is hard to miss,” said NU mentor Edjet Mabbayad.
Gametime is at 4 p.m. after UST and Adamson open their own best-of-three series for third at 2 p.m.
Ateneo overpowered and swept UST in their Final Four series, 20-25, 25-16, 29-27, 25-14 and 25-13, 23-25, 25-23, 25-13, while NU needed to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to get a first-ever crack at the coveted crown.
The Lady Bulldogs bounced back from a Game One setback to outlast the stubborn Adamson Lady Falcons with a sweep of their last two games, 22-25, 25-18, 25-19, 22-25, 15-13, and 24-26, 25-20, 25-15, 25-22.
NU also won its first and only match with Ateneo in the season-opening conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s, 25-15, 25-12, 26-24, on May 5 that drew a huge crowd of 7,624 and league officials had to turn away hundreds more due to limited seats and space at The Arena in San Juan.
Mabbayad, however, downplayed his wards victory over the fancied Lady Eagles, now backstopped by former San Sebastian resident import Jeng Bualee and led by Alyssa Valdez, Fille Cainglet and Jem Ferrer.
“The first time we played them [Ateneo], they still don’t have Jeng, who is probably one of the most dangerous attackers and blockers in the league right now,” said Mabbayad referring to Ateneo’s Thai guest player.
“With her playing for Ateneo, it’s going to be an entirely different game,” added Mabayyad.
Gorayeb, however, stressed the key will be NU’s top setter Rubie de Leon.
“NU has a good group of spikers, there’s no question about that. But I think it will really depend on Rubie [de Leon]. If she plays well, NU will have a chance of winning. If not, they will lose and we’ll have a chance,” said Gorayeb.
“We got her [de Leon]because she’s one of the best setters in the country today and her veteran presence keeps the team together,” he said of De Leon, who averaged 37 excellent sets in the Lady Bulldogs’ two Final Four wins.
With De Leon anchoring NU’s offense with her brilliant set plays, sisters Dindin and Jaja Santiago, Carmina Aganon, Myla Pablo and Aiko Urdas have been relentless and virtually unstoppable upfront.
Games One and Two of the best-of-three finale, backed by MIkasa and Accel, are set at the MOA Arena in Pasay City, where Game Two of the Final Four was held and drew over 5,000-plus fans.
A decider, if necessary, is on Tuesday at the Philsports Arena.