|The vicotrious Ateneo men's volleyball squad.|
By Ricky Manliguis
Ateneo carved out a perferct season, outlasting National University in another epic five-setter, 18-25, 25-16, 20-25,25-18, 15-13, in Game 2 of the UAAP LXXIX men’s volleyball finals at the Araneta Coliseum.
In a similar scenario as in Game 1, the Blue Eagles rallied back from a 1-2 match deficit behind the heroics of four-time league MVP Marck Espejo to secure the three-peat and an immaculate 16-0 season.
Trailing in the fourth set, the Eagles unleashed a 6-0 spurt anchored on captain Karl Baysa’s back-to-back service aces for a 12-7 cushion.
But the Bulldogs rebounded and even grabbed an early 4-1 lead in the decider, before a service ace by setter Ish Polvorosa capped another run that knotted the count at 8-all.
After a 13-10 Ateneo lead, the Bulldogs tied the match again at 13-all with a Francis Saura kill block. Rex Intal scored on a quick attack for championship point, before Espejo finished the match with a dramatic rejection of a Fauzi Ismail missile.
Espejo unloaded 27 points on 25 attacks and two blocks, while Tony Koyfaman, the newly-minted Finals MVP, added 11 markers. Polvorosa issued 62 excellent sets translated into ADMU’s 57 spikes.
Rex Intal and Josh Villanueva both scored 10 points in their final UAAP game.
"From the very beginning, hindi namin ine-expect na maka-sweep, but the Lord is so good. He gave us the strength, and he rescued us," said the emotionally-charged coach Oliver Almadro after the match.
|"Hindi namin in-expect na sweep but the Lord is good. It's the work of the Lord," said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro on team's historic drive to the title.|
"I admire my players, the maturity and resiliency of my players. They just believed na kaya nila 'yung imposible,"he later added.
The win also was a vindication for the Ateneo mentor, a culmination of all the struggles he endured before claiming the three-peat.
“They (Ateneo) took me back, believed in me. I didn't promise them anything, I didn't promise them anything,” he added, tears rolling down from his eyes.
“But they really, really trusted me. My players trusted me. They know how hard I am, but they trusted me.”
It was another painful finals defeat for NU, which last won the UAAP crown in Season 76. Ismail finished with 24 points on 19 attacks, while Bryan Bagunas added 20 and Kim Malabunga 11.