By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FOLLOWING an eventful two rounds of preliminary play, the women’s volleyball tournament of Season 81 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines hits the championship phase with the Ateneo Lady Eagles and University of Santo Tomas Golden Tigresses disputing the title.
The top two teams at the end of the elimination round, Ateneo and UST try to complete what has been a strong campaign for them to date by hoisting the championship trophy in a best-of-three finals series setup which begins on May 11 with Game One at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ateneo, the top seed in the playoffs and carried a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, booked a spot in the finals after surviving a tough challenge from fourth-seeded Far Eastern University, forced to a deciding game last Wednesday, which it won by four sets.
The Lady Eagles return to the finals after missing it last year that ended six straight seasons of making it to the Big Dance. They are gunning for their third UAAP title.
Leading the charge for Ateneo is Kat Tolentino, who is averaging 15 points per game this season.
Graduating player Maddie Madayag has been good for 11.8 points, Ponggay Gaston 8.8 points, captain Bea de Leon 8.7 points and Jules Samonte seven points per contest for the Lady Eagles.
UST, for its parts, is back in the finals after eight years of absence and is eyeing a 17th women’s title.
The Tigresses willed their way to the second spot at the end of the elimination round and made short work of erstwhile defending champions De La Salle Lady Spikers in the Final Four, seeing no need to use their twice-to-beat advantage and completing the job at the first instance.
Captain and graduating player Sisi Rondina has been steady leading UST’s thrust, getting valuable contributions from younger teammates Eya Laure, KC Galdones and Caitlin Viray.
Rondina has been good for a league-leading 19 points per game followed by Laure with 17 points a contest.
Galdones is third-running for UST with 6.3 points and Viray chipping in 5.8 points.
The Lady Eagles have had the number of the Tigresses this season so far, claiming each of their two previous encounters, winning in four sets in the first round and five in the second.
For Ateneo, the championship series will be a whole new game and that it has to come in prepared against a rested UST team.
“UST will come into the finals rested. So we have to have our rest as well and come in with the right mindset and show the heart and will to fight in the championship series,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro after booking their spot in the finals.
Over at the other camp, UST coach Kungfu Reyes said they are expecting to continue to have a tough time versus the Lady Eagles but underscored that it would not stop them from seeing their championship goals through.
“Against Ateneo we expect to have a hard time in our attacks because they have taller players. But in terms of skills we are up there with them and we would not allow ourselves to be dominated,” Mr. Reyes said.
Incidentally both coaches are coaching in their first UAAP finals in the women’s tournament.