Ateneo’s loss to La Salle in Round 1 of Season 78 was a combination of many things.
For veteran Amy Ahomiro, aside from La Salle playing excellent volleyball, she and her teammates also lost their focus no thanks to the loud play of their arch rivals.
For captain Alyssa Valdez, the inexperience of Jamie Lavitoria and Maddie Madayag, who ‘played’ their first Ateneo-La Salle matchup, in such a high-octane game was exposed by the Lady Spikers at their expense.
Another factor that could have caused the end of the Lady Eagles’ 24-game winning streak was Ahomiro’s sprained ankle which she suffered from on the eve of the big day.
Of course the culprit could also be Ateneo’s kryptonite this year—floor defense—as the girls off Katipunan struggled to deliver a good first ball to setter Jia Morado which eventually doomed their chances.
The defeat could be due to any of these factors or could be due to all of these but this is no time to play the blame game.
Ateneo has since recovered and back in tip top shape which is good news to PH volleyball fans who are expecting a long drawn out game come Sunday.
Here are 4 reasons why Ateneo is well-equipped to avenge its 1st round loss:
1. The Lightning is back in the middle
Maddie Madayag’s emergence as a solid presence at the net for Ateneo is commendable especially with how head coach Tai Bundit turned the Davaoeña into a force to be reckoned with in a short period of time.
We all know Madayag won’t be suiting up for Ateneo in Round 2 due to a torn ACL but the good news is, Amy Ahomiro is back to playing in the middle after being converted to an opposite hitter to give way to the sophomore.
Whether you admit it or not, Ahomiro’s numbers dipped which clearly shows how much of a better fit she is as a middle blocker than a right wing spiker.
The New Zealand native hasn’t adjusted well in the 1st round of eliminations wherein her approach still resembled that of a middle blocker which is too fast if you’re coming from the open. The result? A disconnect with setter Jia Morado.
All these are about to change now, though, as Ahomiro is back in the middle and based on experience, she is more than capable of challenging La Salle’s blockers.
All this, of course, is only upon the assumption that Bundit has no surprise position switcheroo coming up.
2. Jho is no joke
Has anyone else noticed Jho Maraguinot’s many, many ways of evading even the best of blockers in the UAAP?
It’s as if the Batangas native spends an extra split second up in the air reading the defense in front of her before deciding whether to go crosscourt, down the line or simply use the hands of her blockers to score a point.
What about her lethal back row attacks? Her arsenal is growing by the minute and this makes her harder to read for the opponents.
Valdez remains to be Ateneo’s main source of points but Maraguinot is slowly breaking away from Valdez’s shadow by showing she can be more efficient.
Her contribution will be invaluable heading into the Sunday’s matchup especially because the outside hitter position is where Ateneo has an advantage over La Salle.
3. Vindication for Valdez
“The 2nd round will be different.”
This statement of Ateneo team captain Alyssa Valdez gave hope to the thousands of fans who got their hearts broken when the Lady Eagles yielded to La Salle in straight sets.
The change did not come easily as the Katipunan crew lost to UP, too, but what came after the ‘dark days’ were nothing but good signs pointing to the odds tipping in Ateneo’s favor.
As if saying her reign isn’t over yet, Valdez’s numbers went back up which was simultaneous to the return of the ‘happy and heartstrong’ play of the Lady Eagles.
The veteran outside hitter is Katipunan’s queen and if she is on top of her game like she has been in their last few outings, everyone else will eventually follow suit.
There is something infectious about that smile of hers. If she gets to bring that and her A-game to the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday, and at the same time shrug off all issues hounding her, then vengeance will be very much within reach.
4. More confident floor defense
More than anything, it was painful to watch such a talented setter like Jia Morado struggle in chasing bad first balls in the first Ateneo-La Salle encounter in Season 78.
Her plays became predictable and it’s not even her fault. She made the most of what was given to her as the playmaker was seen running around the court and, on some occasions, even diving for the ball for a save.
Again, the culprit was the bad reception of Ateneo but hope is on the horizon for the defending champs as Gizelle Tan has regained Bundit’s trust and the starting libero position from fellow setter-turned-libero Jamie Lavitoria.
Tan’s performance will be crucial for it will determine whether Season 77 best setter Morado will be able to weave her magic in creating plays or not.
But if the recent games of the Lady eagles will be the barometer of Tan’s level of play come Sunday, La Salle will have to be extra careful in both net and floor defense as the diminutive volleybelle seems to have mustered enough confidence to go toe-to-toe with Dawn Macandili. — By Mac Dionisio