Despite being down by two sets and as much as five points in the third set, the Lady Spikers were able to get their bearings and extend their match against the Ateneo Lady Eagles before swarming them with their offense in the fifth set, 20-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-6, in Game 1 of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals earlier tonight at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Ara Galang topscored for La Salle with 17 points, while Mika Reyes and Michelle Gumabao added 15 apiece, with team captain Abi Maraño chipping in 11. Roleplayer Cyd Demecillo and surprise starter Wensh Tiu and added eight and seven points, respectively.
On the other hand, Valdez paced the Lady Eagles with 17 markers, while Cainglet added 14, although no other Lady Eagle manage to barge in double figures.
But for the first two sets, it was the Lady Eagles played the Lady Spikers perfectly.
Fille Cainglet was able to repeatedly score off cross court attacks. Team captain Dzi Gervacio’s serves confounded the Lady Spikers and elicited groans from the Lasallian faithful. And the league’s deadliest scorer Alyssa Valdez started as a quicker which, according to Michelle Gumabao, caught them by surprise.
In fact, after scoring the game’s first point, the Lady Spikers never retook the lead in the first set, as the Lady Eagles never relinquished a slim lead midway through the set, 13-11. That slim lead ballooned to a five-point spread right before the second technical timeout, 16-11, an advantage which they maintained right until the end of the set.
It appeared that a different script had been written for the second set, as La Salle wrested the early lead from their rivals, but after a vicious attack by Reyes that gave her team a two-point lead, 9-7, Ateneo managed to get a score that placed Gervacio on the service line.
By the time Gervacio left that area, she had scored three service aces, the Lady Eagles had rattled off nine unanswered points and had taken a commanding six point lead, 15-9, which will prove be too much for the Lady Spikers to overcome as they dropped another set.
A stunned silence fell on the La Salle crowd as a Gervacio spike punctuation the Ateneo victory in the second set, while fans of the Lady Eagles revelled at the prospect of toppling the defending champions.
The Lady Spikers now faced a similar situation during their first round match against these Lady Eagles, when they had to overhaul a two-sets-to-nil lead by their rivals to snap their then-unbeaten run. But whether they can duplicate this feat in the Finals and in front of 17,000 fans remained a question.
A back and forth affair is what ensued at the beginning of the third set, as Galang and Valdez exchanged points. But in a scene reminiscent of the previous set, the Lady Eagles once more uncorked five straight points that allowed them to head into the first technical timeout with the upper hand.
But after the timeout, it was the Lady Eagles who appeared motivated, as they maintained the lead until midway through the set, the last at 13-8. And it was at this point when the La Salle began stringing points of their own to eat into the lead of their rivals.
With Kim Fajardo collecting a couple of service aces, the Lady Spikers scored seven straight points to wrest the lead from their rivals, 15-13, a lead which was repeatedly threatened but was never overcome by the Lady Eagles, and La Salle was able to pull within a set of their rivals as they bucked 11 costly errors.
But just as the La Salle fans were hollering ‘five sets’ to encourage the Lady Spikers to forge a fifth and deciding set, the Lady Eagles once more zoomed ahead by taking a quick 4-0 advantage, forcing La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus to sue for time.
Reyes, team captain Maraño, and role player Demecillo tag-teamed to give the advantage back to La Salle, with an attack by Reyes handing the Lady Spikers the slimmest of margins, 14-13. But with their errors once more mounting, the Lady Eagles were able to take advantage, clinging on to one-point leads several times, the last being at 22-21.
But Gumabao, who would later be adjudged as the game’s best player, strapped her team on her back for the rest of the set as she scored three of the team’s last four points to bag the set for La Salle and set the stage for a fifth and final set.
And it was in the fifth set when the dam finally burst and the flurries of attacks came pouring in, as Galang, Demecillo, Reyes, and Gumabao took turns in scoring for the Lady Spikers, who nursed an 8-5 lead before outscoring their rivals 7-1 the rest of the way.
Even before Gumabao soared high to deliver a numbing spike that won the match for the Lady Spikers, the La Salle fans were already rejoicing on the sides, raising their hands in jubilation or waving t-shirts with the names and jersey numbers of their favourite players on them.
“We are witnesses to volleyball history here today,” announced the barker at the Araneta Coliseum before the game, presumably pertaining to the number of fans inside the Big Dome. As it turned out, he was right.
The Next Game: The Lady Spikers can win their third straight UAAP Volleyball title and their 7th in the last decade in Game 2 of the Finals this Wednesday, March 6, at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Lady Eagles, meanwhile, will try to regroup and force a third and deciding game.