Philippine Daily Inquirer

La Salle rips Ateneo, grabs 1-0 Finals lead

- By Jasmine W. Payo

LA SALLE hardly looked like a squad worried about a lack of preparatio­n going into a championsh­ip showdown with defending champion Ateneo.

Instead, the Lady Spikers looked every inch a squad ready to capture the UAAP women’s volleyball crown, serving a 25-22, 25-22, 25-21 rout of the Lady Eagles at a jampacked Smart Ateneo Coliseum.

“My players got their confidence back,” said La Salle coach Ramil de Jesus after his Lady Spikers moved within a win of reclaiming the crown. “It’s hard to have that, especially if you’re up against back-to-back champions.”

La Salle flaunted that confidence in front of over 20,000 fans, celebratin­g virtually every point they scored.

For Ara Galang, one of the vital cogs of the match along with Mika Reyes, Kim Fajardo and Kim Dy, the Lady Spikers used that swagger to shake off the pressure of playing in volleyball’s biggest stage.

“Puro fun pinairal namin (We just focused on having fun),” said Galang.

“The players were more relaxed,” said De Jesus, whose Lady Spikers came off a do-or-die semifinal match versus Far Eastern University just three days ago.

“Even when we were down [early in the first set], I knew that the players’ composure will be there.”

The Lady Spikers faced a six-point deficit in the first set, rallied to win there and then built on that to dismiss Ateneo and put themselves in a position to bring home the crown that was last theirs in 2013 when they face the Lady Eagles anew in Game 2 on Wednesday at Mall of Asia.

The Lady Eagles, meanwhile, have a few days to reflect on what went wrong.

“We lacked self-confidence,” admitted Ateneo star Alyssa Valdez. “We also lacked the killer instinct in today’s game. They gave us a good fight.”

Ateneo did inch closer to back-to-back men’s crowns after downing National University, 23-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-18, in the opener of the men’s title series.

“It’s really a hard-earned victory,” said coach Oliver Almadro after the Blue Eagles recovered from a set down.

Marck Espejo, who’s tipped to bag his third straight MVP, unloaded 18 kills in a game-high 21 points to power the defending champions.

Dy paced the Lady Spikers with 15 points, 11 off attacks, while Reyes delivered 13 points, including six of the team’s 13 blocks. Reyes had four more blocks than the entire Ateneo team.

Galang and Mary Joy Baron also tallied 10 points each for the Lady Spikers, who rallied from a 1-7 deficit in the opening set.

“They really held on to win,” De Jesus said of the Lady Spikers, who again got off to a slow 3-7 start in the third set before unleashing a 14-4 outburst to wrest the advantage, 17-11.

“This is just one step closer to our goal,” said Galang.

 ?? AUGUST DELA CRUZ ?? MIKA Reyes (left) of La Salle dances in jubilation in front of Alyssa Valdez (middle) and Bea De Leon of Ateneo after scoring on one of her game-best six blocks.
AUGUST DELA CRUZ MIKA Reyes (left) of La Salle dances in jubilation in front of Alyssa Valdez (middle) and Bea De Leon of Ateneo after scoring on one of her game-best six blocks.

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