Defending champion Ateneo swept past Adamson, 25-20, 28-26, 25-22, on Saturday to clinch the last Final Four spot in the UAAP Season 84 women’s volleyball tournament at Mall of Asia Arena.
And as hard as the Blue Eagles were made to work for that win, getting past the Lady Falcons may have been the easiest part of their stepladder journey.
“We get to live another day,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro. “Hopefully we can be better than our best every day and in the coming days.”
The next day would be Tuesday, when Ateneo faces No. 3 University of Santo Tomas in the next rung of its climb toward defending its title. If the Blue Eagles survive that, they need to face La Salle and its twice-to-beat bonus. And if they somehow find a way to string those two needed wins, the reigning queens earn a shot at unbeaten National U.
“All I asked from my players is to gain confidence. It’s not just about skills it’s about confidence in their skills and trusting each other’s talents,” said Almadro.
They sure did that. Especially Faith Nisperos, who banged in 22 points, including two of their last four points. Middle blocker AC Miner added 16, while Vanessa Gandler chipped in 12.
Central to the production of the power trio, however, was Jaja Maraguinot, the quick-thinking Ateneo setter who knew what strings to pull and when to pull them against a hard-fighting Adamson squad.
“Coach was telling me to activate the middle blockers, it’s actually one of the strategies we had for this game,” said Maraguinot, who tossed 21 excellent sets. “I think I did my role well tonight.”
Nisperos had a late error in the third set that Adamson pounced on as Ateneo trailed for the last time at 20-21. But the Blue Eagles’ top scorer redeemed herself with two straight points before Miner set up match point with another kill.
“Coming into this game, coach said we just have to follow our strategy and do our roles,” said Nisperos. “And we just really tried to enjoy the game. It was all teamwork that’s why we were able to accomplish it.”
The Blue Eagles blew four set points in the second frame and even allowed the Lady Falcons to reach set points twice before buckling down to work and stealing the period.
“My players have the talent but sometimes we have the tendency to get overwhelmed,” observed Almadro, whose charges out-attacked the Lady Falcons, 40-27, in the first two sets.
Gandler noticed the same tendency but remained confident they have time to iron it out.
“There’s always room for improvement,” she said. “What’s good is that we always bounce back right away after committing errors. We don’t get frustrated easily.”
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