All eight teams of Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball division came out prepared for a battle. Pre-season preparation for most teams included exposure in commercial leagues as well as out-of-town or country training and team buildings.
At the beginning of the season, all eyes were on the National University (NU) and University of the Philippines (UP) squads as they started off with a 3-0 win-loss record, beating last year’s finalists, Ateneo and La Salle respectively. Although their winning streak was short-lived as the blue and green emerged being the top two teams after the eliminations. Both teams completed their semifinal round assignments in a single game, winning a trip to the championship round.
And once again, for the sixth consecutive year, La Salle and Ateneo faced each other for the chance to win the crown. Since Season 74 of the UAAP, the Lady Spikers have managed to win four championship titles including that of the recently concluded season.
Prior to the finals round, one might have easily assumed that the Lady Eagles would effortlessly defeat the Lady Spikers as the former have already done so twice in the elimination round. We have to consider that the championship series is in a whole new level, an entirely different ball game.
Looking at the previous season, La Salle ranked second prior to the finals series and eventually emerged as the number one team. Checking the results this season, the ladies in green might have actually thought, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” defeating Ateneo two years in a row.
In their first meeting last May 2, La Salle outlasted Ateneo in four sets. The Katipunan-based squad was able to get the first set tallying 25-21. The Lady Spikers simply recovered in the remaining sets and won the game with 29-27, 25-22, 25-20. They played more cohesively, taking advantage of Ateneo’s weakness, their problem even at the beginning of the season, which is their reception or the first pass. This skill is crucial as it would be difficult to convert points without it. Lucky for the Lady Eagles, they have the league’s second best setter, Jia Morado creating better plays for the attackers.
While La Salle had the same problem during the first set, it was easier for them to recover from it since they have the best receiver, Dawn Macandili and the best setter, Kim Fajardo in their line up.
In the concluding match, Game 2 of the finals, both squads gave the crowd a superb performance in five sets with La Salle team finally conquering the crown.
Ateneo wanted to show that they came to the game more prepared, getting the first set, 25-19. They capitalized on their strength as they are the number one team in the spiking department. The Lady Eagles produced twice as much attack points as La Salle.
The latter bounced back higher winning the second set 25-14, forcing the ladies in blue to produce more errors especially in reception, producing 5-0 service aces. Ateneo answered back getting the third set with 25-18, only to be rejected by La Salle in the 4th set with 18-25, forcing a decider.
La Salle charged in a dominating fashion with a 6-1 tally early in the 5th set, with Ateneo already contributing three attack errors. The latter caught up big thanks to Kim Gequillana providing intimidating serves and solid floor defense but the Lady Spikers was still in the lead with 10-8.
Lady Spikers Desiree Cheng and Tin Tiamzon immediately converted 2 points each, pinning Ateneo to 12-8. La Salle’s rotation error easily gave Ateneo their 9th point, but recovered at once as Tiamzon racked up another attack point, 13-9. Lady Eagle Jho Maraguinot stopped the opponents’ momentum with a soft tip, registering Ateneo their 10th point.
Season MVP Majoy Baron sent her team to match point and an attack error from the Lady Eagles sealed the win for the Lady Spikers, 15-10.
In the end, La Salle played a better game, committing less errors during the crucial set, which had been their problem against Ateneo in the elimination round. They showed that their past championship experience gave them more edge in this series. Cheng emerged as the Finals Most Valuable Player with 12 points.