ATENEO'S Lady Eagles averted a collapse and fought off a championship point by De La Salle to win a thrilling Game Three, 25-21, 25-23, 18-25, 16-25, 17-15, on Wednesday and force a winner-take-all match in the UAAP women's volleyball finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Lady Eagles wasted a two-set lead and appeared headed for defeat when they trailed 11-13 in the final set, but suddenly came alive behind the pleadings of coach Anusorn 'Tai' Bundit before more than 18,000 fans that were mostly up on their feet in the final set.
They Said It!
“Heart strong." Ateneo Lady Eagle and UAAP MVP Alyssa Valdez
After fighting off a championship point by La Salle at 15-14 behind an Alyssa Valdez spike down the line, the Lady Eagles moved to match point behind an attack by rookie Michelle Morente before getting the clincher on a controversial double touch violation called by the umpire on the Lady Spikers.
That put an anti-climactic ending to one of the most exciting finals matches seen in league history - a two-and-a-a-half hour war of attrition marked by wildly changing fortunes that left the Lady Spikers a win short of a record fourth successive league championship.
"Heart strong," were the first two words Ateneo star and league MVP Valdez said in the post-game interview to describe the emotional victory, echoing the words of his Thai coach.
After dropping only their second game of the season, the Lady Spikers, who went unbeaten in 30 games at one point, will need to come back on Saturday for a do-or-die match against an unheralded Ateneo side that is now a win away from a first league title.
The deciding game will be played on Saturday, also at the MOA Arena - the fifth fifth do-or-die game this season for the Lady Eagles who survived a sudden-death clash with Adamson and two matches against National University in the stepladder semifinals.
"Volleyball is sometimes better, sometimes only a little bit. In the first two sets, we were better, in the next two sets our hearts were lower," said Bundit. "In fifth set, we were happy. If you believe you can win, you will win. We only believe, no talk."
Ateneo's frontline once again carried the fight with Valdez scoring 22 and Morente and A Ahomiro 18 each in a match that saw the Lady Eagles flounder after a command performance in the first two sets.
Ara Galang sparked the La Salle comeback on the way to a game-high 28 points, with Cyd Demecillo adding 12 and Mika Reyes 11 for a side that took a four-point lead in the race-to-15 deciding set.
"Laging sinasabi sa amin ni Coach Tai na hanggang di pa 25 or 15 ang kalaban, di pa tapos," said Valdez. "Na-instill na nga sa mind namin yung 'heart strong,' yun talaga ang magpapanalo sa amin kahit down na kami."