By John Bryan Ulanday
REIGNING champion Ateneo and Santo Tomas as finalists of the last season before the pandemic meet in an unlikely rematch, disputing the right to move on to the next phase of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball stepladder playoffs at the Mall of Asia Arena.
After living to fight another day at fourth spot, the Blue Eagles march in another elimination game against the third-seeded Golden Tigresses at 6:30 p.m. to fire off the steep trek to the finals.
The winner gets a ticket upstairs against No. 2 and twice-to-beat La Salle before earning a shot at the formidable National University, which gained a free passage to the best-of-three finale after completing a 14-0 sweep of the elims.
Ateneo, as the rightful defending titlist before the pandemic halted the UAAP action for two years, caught that last playoff bus by besting Adamson in a knockout game for the No. 4 seed.
Now, the road is expected to only get tougher for the Blue Eagles starting with their good rivals.
“We live another day. I guess we’re here because all the players contributed to our momentum in gaining this Final Four spot. Now, we’re up against UST (University of Santo Tomas) which is a great team and lagi naming sinasabi, great teams will just push us forward,” said coach Oliver Almadro as Ateneo barged into the Final Four with a 25-20, 28-26, 25-22 win over Adamson the other day.
Riding in that momentum but with only little rest, Ateneo now faces a tall order against a well-rested Santo Tomas squad that is hoping to utilize it as an advantage in the do-or-die set-to.
“We’re hoping to maximize our few days of rest to correct our lapses and weak points. Hopefully, ‘yung mga learning and experience namin sa 14 games, mabitbit namin papasok ng stepladder,” noted Santo Tomas mentor Kungfu Reyes.
Ateneo bowed to Santo Tomas in the first round, 19-25, 21-25, 31-29, 31-33, but made a statement win in straight sets in their second meeting, 25-20, 25-20, 25-20, to enter the Final Four brimming with confidence to stay alive anew.