Throw all the stats away, we are heading to a do-or-die Game 3.
While many thought Ateneo’s meltdown in the second set, where it lost a 24-20 lead, already doomed the team’s chances, the defending champion proved resilient enough as it completed a come-from-behind 18-25, 26-28, 26, 25-17, 25-16, 15-11 victory at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Lady Eagles, who have soared to iconic status after its Cinderella run 2 years ago, were back at its pure display of grit when they pulled off the win, sending the UAAP Season 78 finals series to a deciding Game 3.
“Coach Tai will always say na kahit lamang na ng 2 sets kalaban, he’ll just say 0-0,” says Ateneo team captain Alyssa Valdez. “It’s true naman. When you enter a new set, definitely back to zero. Pero hindi mo pa rin maalis na isip mo na naka-two sets na sila.”
“But we had nothing to lose in today’s game. We are the underdogs kasi they won Game 1,” she added. “Entering into this game, siyempre there is pressure sa sarili namin but I guess teamwork really worked today.”
Both teams equalized each other’s 33 unforced errors but the Katipunan crew’s glaring advantage was in attacking as the Lady Eagles converted 63 kills as opposed to the Lady Spikers’ 47.
More than half of Ateneo’s offense came from Valdez as she waxed hot with 34 points, 32 of which came from attacks.
Even during the intense fifth frame, the outside hitter continued her spiking show as she became unstoppable and scored 5 straight kills, something La Salle had no antidote to.
“Pag nandun ka na, kahit ano nararamdaman mo, papaluin mo na lang ang bola eh,” shared Valdez on the high she felt. “Tapos makikita mo nagchi-cheer mga teammates mo? Wala na talaga ako mahihiling pa. God gave us another chance to defend the crown. Just give your all.”
Aside from Valdez, second-year players Jho Maraguinot and Bea de Leon also finished in double digits with a combined 27-point output.
Jia Morado, on the other hand, outplayed her La Salle counterpart Kim Fajardo, 70 excellent sets to 61.
“Super bait lang ni Lord na binigyan niya kami ng chance na makapanalo pa ulit,” said the skipper.
“Happy kami na nanalo kami but you know, winning is not just about winning. There are big responsibilities after,” added the 3-time MVP. “Pagbalik on Saturday, kailangan kalimutan ang win today and remember all the things we did right, analyze mga ginawa naming mali and try to fix it sa training.”
All the numbers, wins, and losses from this point on will no longer matter as the hearts of all the girls from both teams will be put to the ultimate test for a chance to exit the tournament with the title.
“Aside from physically, kailangan namin mag prepare mentally because it’s Game 3, last game, finals. Mind over matter na ito. Kahit masakit, kahit ano, lalaban ka lang,” closed Valdez. — By Mac Dionisio