This time, the much-anticipated Ateneo-La Salle volleyball match was robbed of its usual cardiac finish.
Lady Eagle Alyssa Valdez prepared to deliver a thunderous spike from a set by teammate Jem Ferrer to the La Salle side, the kind of spike that will reverberate loudly as it hits the floor or the hapless arms of an opposing player and will elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the thousands of volleyball fans gathered at the MOA Arena.
But as she rose to deliver the vicious attack, she was met by Lady Spikers Michelle Gumabao, Mika Reyes, and team captain Abi Maraño, who all had their arms outstretched and formed an impenetrable wall. The ball bounced off the hands of Reyes and right back to the Lady Eagles’ side of the court as a couple of them dived on the arena’s floor in a vain attempt to return the ball to the other side.
But it was too late. The ball had already hit the floor, the barker had already announced another score for ‘The Green Wall from Taft Avenue,’ and Reyes was already pumping her fists in celebration after pocketing one of her game-high six blocks in the contest.
Anchored by their 18 blocks, the Lady Spikers made quick work of the Lady Eagles in three tightly-contested sets, 25-19, 25-23, 25-21, earlier today at the Mall of Asia Arena to win their 12th straight contest in the UAAP Season 75 Volleyball Tournament. The victory also assured the Lady Spikers that they will finish first in the elimination round for the fourth straight year, regardless of the result of their last assignment against the UE Lady Warriors.
Gumabao paced La Salle’s balanced attack as she finished with a game-high 14 points, while Reyes also wound up in double figures as she had 10. Last season’s Rookie of the Year Ara Galang and Maraño, meanwhile, netted nine and eight points, respectively.
Valdez and team captain Dzi Gervacio finished with 10 points apiece for the Lady Eagles, who also got six points from Cainglet, who was unable to finish the first match between the teams because of an ankle injury that also sidelines her for three games.
With Gumabao pouring 10 of her 14 in the first set and Ateneo committing 12 unforced errors, La Salle raced to a 21-15 lead after an attack by Wensh Tiu, only to see their lead dwindle to a couple of points, 21-19, after a service ace by Lady Eagle Gretchen Ho. But that would prove to be the last points for Ateneo for the set, as Maraño and Gumabao tag-teamed to score the last four points for La Salle to ensure that there would be no need for a magical comeback in their second meeting.
But early in the second frame, it was the league-leading offense of the Lady Eagles that was on full display, as they led 9-6 after a service ace by Valdez. But as in the first set, a couple of errors allowed the Lady Spikers to climb back into the set and wrest the lead from their arch-rivals heading into the second technical timeout, 16-14. Ateneo, however, was still able to knot the count at 16 after a block by Ho, and the set would prove to be the most hotly-contested so far until Maraño scored the points that would ultimately hand La Salle the second set.
Ella De Jesus was able to give the Lady Eagles an offensive lift from the pine as she scored all four of her points in the third set, but the Lady Spikers never relinquished the slim 4-3 lead that they had at the beginning of the set, despite repeated rallies from the Lady Eagles, who absorbed their fourth loss of the tournament.