NO. 4 SEED Ateneo Blue Eagles celebrate their victory over the Golden Tigresses. — THE UAAP

By John Bryan Ulanday

AMIDST another anticipated turbulence, high-flying Ateneo is out to sustain its flight against no less than its fierce rival La Salle to keep its title retention bid alive in the second phase of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s volleyball tournament stepladder playoffs at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Dragged into an unchartered territory as the lower-ranked squad, the reigning champion but fourth-seeded Blue Eagles defied odds in three straight elimination matches with hopes of extending it anew against the Lady Spikers.

La Salle, as the No. 2 seed, sports a twice-to-beat advantage in the 5 p.m. duel, making it a tougher adversity to overcome for Ateneo.

But the Blue Eagles are ready in a bid to stay afloat with unbeaten National University (NU) that is already in the finals as their ultimate target.

“We will live for another day. We will just do it one game at a time, one day at a time. Hopefully, we will win at the right time and we will win when it matters,” said coach Oliver Almadro after a stunning sweep of No. 3 Santo Tomas.

Buoyed by massive wins against University of the Philippines to gain a tie at fourth and against Adamson in a playoff match to qualify in the stepladder, the streaking Ateneo rolled past Santo Tomas with 25-23, 25-23, 25-20 victory the other night to climb the ladder.

Back in 2014, the Alyssa Valdez-led Blue Eagles also took on a similar path by scaling the stepladder semifinals — against Adamson, twice-to-beat NU and unbeaten La Salle in the finals — as the No. 3 seed for their first-ever UAAP volleyball championship.

It’s far from being replicated as of now, but Mr. Almadro is hoping for his wards to get motivation from that dream run.

“It’s an honor for our team kung maikukumpara sa kanila. What is important is if we can duplicate what they did, we will be thankful to the Lord, and of course, we will be thankful for them for being our inspiration. Sana ma-manifest,” he added.

Banking on a week-long break, La Salle for its part is keen on stopping its rival’s run for good in just one match to arrange a best-of-three titular showdown with NU.