Blue Eagles draw first blood in Men’s Volleyball Championship
It was a struggle early on, but the Ateneo Blue Eagles banked on their offense to overcome the NU Bulldogs in 4 sets, 23-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-18 in the Finals of UAAP Season 78 Men’s Volleyball Tournament.
Early on, both teams committed some errors, but Ateneo was able to hit more attacks to grab the early advantage, 8-5. Immediately after, the Eagles committed 2 straight errors, while NU answered every hit that the Eagles threw to keep the game close, 16-15. The heated exchanges between the hitters of both teams continued, until at 22-20, the Bulldogs notched 3 straight points to take over, 22-23. Espejo tried to lead Ateneo to a comeback with a punishing spike from the back row, but a strong hit from NU and an unexpected attacking error by Marasigan led to an anticlimactic ending to this set.
Better spiking and organized blocking translated into a 2nd set victory for the Eagles. At the start of the 2nd set, the Eagles looked eager to bounce back, especially Espejo who scored 5 of Ateneo’s 8 points heading into the 1st technical timeout, 8-4. Ateneo later protected this advantage with the help of Polvorosa’s play making, deceiving the blockers and spreading his sets evenly to all his hitters, 16-12. The Eagles then managed to maintain their high intensity of play enabling them to keep the distance until Intal compellingly finished the set with an impactful quick attack.
A more dominant Ateneo squad was witnessed in the 3rd set. The set started with both teams firing, the variety of plays that was made for Intal, Espejo and Marasigan was competently countered, until a block by Baysa gave the Eagles a slim margin going into the 1st technical timeout, 8-7. Both teams continued these exchanges until a crushing open hit by Baysa ignited a 7-3 run in favor of the Eagles, 16-11. The Bulldogs tried to catch up by taking advantage of the Ateneo errors and narrowing down the lead to 3 with their attacks, but they had no answer once the Eagles stepped up and scored 5 straight points, which included 3 unlikely errors by NU, 22-14. The two teams then continued to score, until the set surprisingly ended with another uncharacteristic hitting error from the Bulldogs.
The last set was still controlled by the defending champions, and the Eagles rode on the momentum in the start of the set and took advantage of the Bulldogs’ errors. Through the unstoppable attacks of Espejo and the solid blocking of Polvorosa, they brought the score to 8-3. The Eagles continued their effective offense and defense with Espejo, Baysa and Villanueva breaking the NU defense to increase the lead by 1, 16-10. The Eagles still managed to maintain the high level of play, but in the latter part of the set, the Bulldogs managed to get closer at 22-18. In the end, The Eagles showed no mercy and scored 3 straight points to commandingly claim Game 1 of the Finals.
Overall, the Ateneo Blue Eagles just had the edge in their scoring since the non-scoring stats were all close. Also, they were able to step up in the moments wherein they needed it the most. First of all, the Eagles attacking was the biggest edge that they had in this match. In the 1st set, the Bulldogs was able to outscore them in attacking 14-16, but for the rest of the match the Eagles dominated this department and totaled 55 attacks compared to NU’s 45. Secondly, the Eagles were better in controlling their errors. In all 4 sets, the Bulldogs had more errors than Ateneo, and this became very costly for them since Ateneo really took advantage of this and punished them. Finally, the biggest advantage that the Eagles have is the championship experience. This is the 3rd straight year wherein these 2 teams will battle for the championship, but the Bulldogs starters are composed of a few rookies and sophomores, who haven't experienced playing in the finals. It was evident that they made of use of this advantage when they took over after losing the opening set. Ever since that set loss, they did not look back, and did not even give the Bulldogs a chance to regain the advantage.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles will now keep their eyes on the prize for they will battle for the crown on Wednesday April 27,2016 at the MoA Arena at 2pm.