By Ricky Manliguis
QUEZON CITY—After four seasons of heartbreak, the UAAP men’s volleyball title is back to the streets of Sampaloc.
National Univeristy snapped Ateneo’s stronghold with an emotionally-charged 25-20, 31-29, 22-25, 33-31 triumph in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 80 men’s volleyball finals Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With Bryan Bagunas catching fire, and superb net defenses, the Bulldogs fought tooth-and-nail opposite the erstwhile three-time champions Blue Eagles to finally win the title for the first time since Season 77.
After winning the first set, NU cruised to a 23-17 cushion only for the Blue Eagles to come back and tied the match at 24-all, setting the stage for a back-and-forth tussle. But at 29-all, Espejo commited two miscues, a service error and a rejected attack, to give the Bulldogs the frame.
Espejo then joined forces with Ron Medalla and Gian Glorioso as Ateneo pulled a set back by winning the third frame.
NU made a gallant stand as Espejo single-handedly lifted the team in a marathon fourth set. Espejo shattered four Bulldog championship points to come to a 31-all deadlock via a Medalla attack.
James Natividad gave NU its seventh championship point at 32-31 before letting a Medalla attempt sail out of bounds, prompting celebrations from the blue-and-gold crowd.
“Tatlong finals na kami lumalaban. Pagtapos lagi kaming umiiyak. Ngayon na iba naman, sobrang saya namin na nakuha namin ang championship ngayon,” said NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin on the school’s third men’s volleyball championship.
Bagunas, later named as Finals MVP, topscored with 22 points, 17 coming from attacks with four blocks and an ace. Natividad added 18 markers while Kim Malabunga was the other double-digit scorer with 10.
“Pinakita ko naman na talagang hindi kami susuko. Pinakita ko sa mga teammate ko na hindi na kami dapat basta-basta. Hindi na kami bata nag a-ganun ganun lang. Kailangan naming may mapatunayan na talaga,”
Despite a minus-eight disadvantage in attacks, 50-58, the Bulldogs lorded it over the net, blocking 19 Ateneo missiles over-all.The Eagles, meanwhile, had 11 rejections.
Ateneo’s loss, on the other hand, was a bitter end to the collegiate careers of the prolific Espejo, setter Ish Polvorosa, and captain Karl Baysa. The five-time MVP Espejo cashed in a game-best 30 points with 26 kills, while Medalla issued 16 markers, and Glorioso 10.