UNCAGED. Unchained. Unleashed.

Entering the final stage of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) wilderness together for the first time wasn’t the mere goal for the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs of the National University (NU). Discontented and all, they ran roughshod on a twain of Tigers to rule the jungle altogether and crown themselves as twin champions for also the first time ever.

In front of 22,515 witnesses, the Bulldogs and the Lady Bulldogs ascended to the throne with 25-21, 22-25, 25-17, 25-15 and 25-23, 23-25, 27-25, 25-16 victory, respectively, in Game 2 to complete convincing series sweeps in the UAAP Season 86 men’s and women’s volleyball tournaments on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Lady Bulldogs capped a fitting redemption for their second title in three years and fourth overall as the Bulldogs cemented their stature as the best men’s team in the country with a sweet four-peat as part of their six overall cups.

They’re the first UAAP volleyball double champions since Ateneo de Manila University did it in Season 77. The Bulldogs were also the first four-peat titlist since University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Season 73 while the Lady Bulldogs redeemed themselves after a runner-up finish last year.

This season, together they’re simply the first — and the only.

Newly-crowned Season MVP and First Best Outside Spiker Bella Belen fired 19 points to finish what her lethal partner and Finals MVP Alyssa Solomon (Best Opposite Spiker) started with 27 points on 24 hits, four blocks and three aces.

The Lady Bulldogs, on the heels of an easy 25-23, 25-20, 25-20 win in Game 1, met strong resistance form the Golden Tigresses inspired by the return of injured ace and Rookie of the Year Angeline Poyos only to brave on, highlighted by a comeback from a 21-23 deficit in the crucial third set. Ms. Belen stamped her MVP form in that stretch, firing three straight points down the wire for the win that just snowballed in a dominant fourth-set performance to seal the deal.

For the Bulldogs, graduating team captain Joshua Retamar (26 sets, three points, nine digs) brought them home for a beautiful swan song to cap an illustrious collegiaye career laced by back-to-back Best Setter plums and Finals MVP honors.

Mr. Retamar rolled the red carpet for his snipers led by Buds Buddin (28), Leo Aringo (22) and Second Best Outside Spiker Nico Almendras (20) as NU, which was swept by Santo Tomas in the elims, spoiled the 24-point outing of back-to-back MVP Josh Ybañez (also First Best Outside Spiker).

Joining Ms. Belen in the women’s dream team were De La Salle University’s Thea Gagate (First Best Middle Blocker), University of the Philippines’ Niña Ytang (Second Best Middle Blocker), UST’s Cassie Carballo (Best Setter) and Bernadett Pepito (Libero).

Other men’s awardees included Far Eastern University’s Dryx Saavedra (Best Opposite Spiker), FEU’s Martin Bugaoan (First Best Middle Blocker), La Salle’s Nathaniel Del Pilar (Second Best Middle Blocker), La Salle’s Nard Guerrero (Best Libero) and NU’s Jade Disquitado (Rookie of the Year). — John Bryan Ulanday