The quest for a 3-peat is off to a good start for Ateneo as it is on its way to sweeping the 1st round and extending its win streak to 25 games when it faces rival La Salle Saturday.
There were a couple of hurdles the Lady Eagles had to endure to remain on top but so far so good as they dropped only 1 set in all of their 6 outings.
They are not as invincible as they were last year when they still had the likes of Ella de Jesus and Denden Lazaro but the departure of the 2 has paved the way for new names to show they are worthy to takeover the starting slots.
And with the rate of the improvement of these new names are going, the Katipunan squad’s lethal form will be back to normal soon, maybe even in time for the big battle against the Lady Spikers.
Let us count the ways why Ateneo is looking poised to score its 7th straight win against its archrivals since 2014.
When you’ve been playing as a setter your whole life, being converted to a libero could be challenging. When you’re a playmaker, the least of your concerns is getting the first ball which is the exact opposite of a libero’s role.
This is perhaps why Gizelle Tan struggled to deliver in her new role.
Fortunately for the Lady Eagles, Jamie Lavitoria, who is also a setter-turned-libero, did not face the same roadblock as she zoomed to the top of the best receivers list, toppling Dawn Macandili with a whopping 29.03% efficiency rate.
Her emergence from the bench to starting for Ateneo is a welcome development as she changed the texture of the game for the Katipunan squad.
She makes the life of her teammates, especially Jia Morado’s, easier and we all know how dangerous Ateneo is when they are at ease inside the court.
It will be Lavitoria’s acid test, battling the best serving team in La Salle and if she survives it with flying colors, then a new era of defensive greatness is in the offing for the reigning champs.
2. The options are endless for Jia Morado
You don’t achieve a 41.62% success rate on your attacks by having just a couple of spikers delivering.
If someone wants to be the best spiking team in the league, all the attackers must be able to score at will and that is Ateneo’s biggest advantage coming into the finals rematch.
Imagine having the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Jho Maraguinot, Bea de Leon, Maddie Madayag and Amy Ahomiro at your disposal and you have a playmaker in the caliber of Jia Morado to call the shots. It’s crazy.
And it will be the perfect challenge to La Salle’s dominating net defense which averages 2.53 kill blocks per frame.
It will be tougher this year as La Salle’s blocking is now also backed by good floor defense. But by the looks of it, Ateneo has a wider arsenal this year which basically evens out things between the 2 teams.
3. Alyssa Valdez is not yet tired
The captain is averaging 17 points per game to date and as we all know, that is not her usual numbers.
In the past weeks of our player rankings, we’ve reiterated how her numbers have not much to do with her level of play but have everything to do with how her teammates are stepping up and doing the damage on their own.
Maraguinot is ranked 1st in spiking, Madayag is #1 in serving while also being in the top 10 of the best blockers list with de Leon and Ahomiro.
This is taking a big bulk of the scoring load off Valdez’s shoulders and after a gruelling off-season with tournaments left and right for ‘The Phenom,’ this is the rest she needs in order to function when Ateneo needs her the most.
Though she is ranked 3rd in spiking and serving, and 9th in digging, we have not seen the outside hitter explode yet. And if she does on Saturday, it could be game over earlier than expected.
4. More tricks up Tai Bundit’s sleeves
You might see Ateneo head coach Tai Bundit dancing around and celebrating points during games but make no mistake, this man takes his job seriously.
Bringing with him the knowledge that made Thailand one of the powerhouse volleyball teams in Asia, Bundit has set the bar so high that the rest of the field are scrambling to catch up.
The guy comes in to the venue early if they are scheduled at 4pm and sometime stays behind when they are scheduled at 2pm just so he can observe and scout the opponents.
He doesn’t speak our language nor does he speak English which could be his strongest point. Nobody knows what he’s thinking. Nobody knows how his mind works.
So far, de Jesus has yet to figure out a way to outsmart Bundit. If you see him dancing his socks off on Saturday, you’d know they got the win in the bag. — By Mac Dionisio