NATIONAL University finally solved the Ateneo riddle and regained its place as the king of the UAAP volleyball with a 25-20, 31-29, 22-25, 33-31 victory to complete a finals sweep on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bulldogs avoided a fourth straight finals loss to the Blue Eagles, bagging their first title since Season 76 and their third overall.
NU survived another herculean performance from five-time MVP Marck Espejo in the fourth set when the graduating superstar led a comeback from 9-3 down early in the fourth set before saving four of seven championship points.
James Natividad pushed the Bulldogs to their seventh championship point with a thundering kill before Ateneo’s Ron Medalla sent the ball long to finish off what was a marathon of a fourth set.
“Napakasarap na championship. Tatlong finals na kami lumalaban. Pagtapos lagi kaming umiiyak. Ngayon na iba naman, sobrang saya namin na nakuha namin ang championship ngayon,” said NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin.
“Ang ginawa lang namin, pinagpatuloy lang namin ginawa namin ng Game One. Kung may adjustments sila, nakukuha kaagad namin yung gameplan nila,” he added.
Ateneo certainly had its chances in this match, particularly after a slow start in the first set when Espejo was crowded heavily by the blockers of National University.
In the second set, the Blue Eagles stormed back from a 22-19 deficit to extend the set only to fall short.
They finally got their breakthrough in the third and looked poised to keep the series alive when they weathered an early NU storm and even took an 18-15 lead.
But the Bulldogs were unfazed as Brian Bagunas sparked the last push for the Bulldogs as errors mounted for the Blue Eagles.
Not even the best effort from Espejo could make up for their costly errors as the Bulldogs finally got one again over the long time tormentors.
Bagunas led the Bulldogs with 22 points on 17 attacks, four blocks and an ace and was later named Finals MVP.
“Ito yung isa sa pinakamasayang celebration namin. Sabi nga ng mga coaches, hindi na kami uuwi ng luhaan. Maganda yung kinalabasan ng laro,” said Bagunas
Natividad added 18 points on 15 attacks as Kim Malabunga had five of NU’s 19 blocks to finish with 10 points. Madz Gampong and Francis Saura also finished with eight points apiece with the pair conspiring with Malabunga in NU’s wall.
Espejo finished what was an amazing collegiate career for Ateneo with 30 points on 26 attacks as Medalla added 16 points.