SHAKY in the early goings, Ateneo steadied itself by leaning on rookie Michelle Morente and team leader Alyssa Valdez to prevail over a rusty and disjointed La Salle squad 17-25, 25-23, 25-13, 25-20, in the opener of the UAAP women’s volleyball finals on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
La Salle got off to a usual quick start and took the opening set, but soon the lack of match play showed and Ateneo turned things around to deal the DLSU Lady Spikers their first loss of the season, halting a DLSU win streak stretching back from last season that spanned 30 games.
The two teams clash anew on Saturday, also at the Big Dome, in what has turned into a best-of-three title showdown. Top seed La Salle entered the finals with a thrice-to-beat advantage.
A 14-match sweep of the elimination round earned the Lady Spikers an outright finals berth and forced a stepladder semifinals instead of a crossover final four.
But that also meant 18 days without competitive play, and the Lady Spikers wound up suffering their first loss after 30 wins dating to last season.
Lady Eagles, meanwhile, have won seven straight including the victories over twice-to-beat second seed National University in the semifinals.
“I am dancing for the players (because) they are very good,” said Ateneo’s Thai coach Anusorn Bundit, who was his usual bouncy self at the sidelines as the Lady Eagles managed to control the match.
“La Salle team is better (than us) but I believed to win (against) La Salle," he added.
Morente led Ateneo with 17 points, while Valdez and Amy Ahomiro each posted 16 points in the Lady Eagles' eighth straight win since Bundit returned from a trip back to Thailand to attend to his duties as coach of his country's training pool.
It was the Lady Spikers’ first loss in the finals since dropping a four-set decision to the Fab Five-powered Lady Eagles in Game One of the Season 74 title series in 2012. They also held a two-to-win, thrice-to-beat edge that year.
Cyd Demecillo, who kept the Lady Spikers afloat in the fourth set, led the way with 16 points on 13 attacks and three blocks. Ara Galang had 13 points, while skipper Aby Maraño had 10 points.