The Ateneo Blue Eagles leaned on their rock-solid defense to keep the National University Bulldogs at bay yesterday en route to a 23-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-18 victory in Game 1 and 1-0 edge in the
78th University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s volleyball finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The defending champions played listlessly at the start and surrendered the first set, 23-25, before recovering both in offense and defense to take the next three sets in the 1 hour, 44 minute-match and move closer to their second straight championship.
Marck Espejo led the Blue Eagles’ with 21 points, including two aces, while Rex Intal and Ysay Marasigan tallied 13 and 12.
Ribem Baysac and Kim Malabunga, who scored 13 points each, led the Bulldogs to a flying start, leading the team to a 23-22 edge in the first set.
The 6’3 Espejo tried to bail the Eagles out of trouble with a perfectly-aimed shot to tie the score, but Bulldogs spiker James Natividad hits from the right flank and Marasigan’s error at the other end gave NU the first set.
It proved to be the Bulldogs last stand, as the Blue Eagles played a better team effort in the next three sets.
“NU is a powerful team. They will use their height and their power to try to win this one,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro.
With NU rallying and staying close, 11-12 in the second, Ateneo played a patient, waiting game.
Intal, who is now on his senior year, struck for three points during a 4-0 spurt to give Ateneo a 16-12 edge.
Villanueva’s block off Baysac then had NU taking a five-point lead, 21-16.
“Kailangang tiyagaan namin ang next sets. Nag-payoff siya,” added Almadro.
Stepping up with their frontline defense in the third set, the Blue Eagles came off with a 9-4, with Dan Angelo Posadas giving the Loyola spikers a four-point lead with his kill shot to the right side.
A block from Joshua Villanueva followed by Espejo’s placement shot then put Ateneo up by six, 13-7.
“They were attacking with their combinations in the first set. Nainip lang kami,” added Almadro on their second finals showdown with NU in two years.
The Bulldogs tried to step up their attacks in the final set, but a service error stopped NU’s efforts as Ateneo went on to nurse a six-point lead, 17-11.
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