By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE CHAMPIONSHIP aspirations of the Ateneo Lady Eagles are still alive after staving off elimination and forcing a sudden death in their best-of-three UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament finals with the University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses by taking Game Two in four sets, 26-24, 14-25, 25-21 and 25-15, on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Playing on better footing than in the series opener on Saturday where they were swept by their opponents, the Lady Eagles kept their quest of claiming their first University Athletic Association of the Philippines title in four years going.
Ateneo had a more concerted effort in Game Two, affording it with a deeper bag to draw from to survive the spirited attack of UST.
The contest got off to a competitive start with the two teams looking to take early control.
Ateneo sped to an 8-5 lead to open the first set but UST countered, led by Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure, with a 4-1 run to tie the count at 9-all.
The Tigresses continued with their charge to claim a 16-12 advantage by the second technical break.
The Lady Eagles, however, would show grit after and kept coming back.
With Kat Tolentino and Bea De Leon at the forefront, Ateneo managed to level the count at 21-all.
UST racked up back-to-back points after to move to within two points of the set win, 23-21.
Ateneo then pulled even anew at 23-all.
Caitlin Viray gave the lead back to the Tigresses, 24-23, with a kill but was answered by a block by Bea De Leon to send the set to overdrive.
Got the leverage it needed, Ateneo took full advantage of it, scoring the next two points for the set and go 1-0 up in the match.
In the second set, UST came out with more bite, dominating with an 8-2 separation at the onset and stretching its lead to seven points, 16-9, midway.
The Lady Eagles tried to claw their way back, but unforced errors and solid serving by the Tigresses made it tough for Ateneo to fashion out any comeback and the game went on to be knotted at a match apiece.
The third set was momentarily halted at the start as Laure got hurt by rolling her left ankle off a bad landing. She was then taken to the dugout to have her ankle iced and taped.
When play resume, the two slugged it out with the Tigresses eventually taking an 8-7 advantage by the first technical break.
Ateneo, however, was undeterred, rallying itself back to first tie the count at 10-all and then built a 16-13 advantage at the halfway juncture.
Rondina and the Tigresses levelled the score at 18-all but were eventually outsprinted by their opponents, 7-2, the rest of the way to hand the Lady Eagles a 2-1 lead for the game.
The fourth set had Ateneo rolling at the start with Ponggay Gaston and the Lady Eagles’ defense towing them to an 8-4 lead.
They would continue to roll after, creating a wider separation of 16-7 by the halfway point
Building a huge momentum, Ateneo was not to relent, soaring to a 20-8 lead.
From there the Lady Eagles were not to be stopped as they went on to close out things and book the victory that forced the rubber match on Saturday, May 17.
Maddie Madayag led a balanced Ateneo attack with 17 points while Rondina top-scored for UST with 22 points.
“The seniors led us in this game. How can you not deliver when they are egging you to play and give your all. We just believed in ourselves,” said libero Dani Ravena, who came off the bench to play well and earn the player of the game award.
Game Two of the finals drew a mammoth crowd of 19,762.