A LOT of things have taken place since National University beat two-time champion Ateneo in their first and only match-up in the 10th Shakey’s V-League First Conference.
The Lady Eagles swept six-time champion University of Santo Tomas in the semis to make the Finals for the third time, whereas the Lady Bulldogs had to survive a gritty Adamson side in a do-or-die encounter to march to the championship round.
The Lady Eagles also had no Jeng Bualee at the time they absorbed a three-set loss at the hands of the Lady Bulldogs during the quarterfinals in a game that drew a record crowd of 7,624 at The Arena in San Juan.
“Nadagdagan ang opensa nila,” admitted NU coach Edjet Mabbayad, referring to the Thai reinforcement who played for San Sebastian in the eliminations before hooking up with Ateneo in the semis.
Now, the Lady Bulldogs will have to contend with a well-rested, Bualee-reinforced Lady Eagles when the two teams cross paths again in Game One of their best-of-three title showdown on Thursday at the MOA Arena.
The Lady Bulldogs will definitely have their hands full in the 4 p.m. contest as other than Bualee, the three-peat seeking Katipunan-based team also boasts the likes of ace spiker Alyssa Valdez, Fille Cainglet, and guest player Rachel Ann Daquis.
Bualee, the league's two-time MVP, emerged as the second best scorer this tournament, coming through with a total of 158 points from 149 spikes, three blocks, and six service aces at the end of the semifinals.
“Beteranong manlalaro na kasi siya (Bualee) kaya isa siya sa paghahandaan namin. Pero hindi lang kami magfo-focus sa kanya, paghahandaan din namin lahat," said Mabbayad.
The Lady Bulldogs dispatched the Lady Eagles, 25-15, 25-12, 26-24, in their first and only meeting this season that saw Valdez register her lowest output of eight points.
But Mabbayad stressed the Finals is a different battleground altogether.
“Itong championship bagong laban na ito,” he said. “Kalimutan na `yung eliminations.”
Although Ateneo is favored to win a third straight First Conference championship, the Lady Eagles remain wary of NU, especially because of veteran setter Rubie de Leon.
Ateneo coach Roger Gorayeb sees de Leon as the glue that helps the Lady Bulldogs stick together.
“Ang key to NU is Rubie de Leon,” he said. “Kung mabibigyan niya ng bola ang mga spikers nila magiging maganda ang laro nila.”
Also expected to pick up the cudgels for NU are sisters Dindin and Jaja Santiago, Carmina Aganon, Myla Pablo, and Aiko Urdas.
Dindin emerged as the league’s top scorer by the end of the semis, tallying a total of 193 points, from 146 spikes, 22 blocks, and 25 service aces.
Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas and Adamson take on each other at 2 p.m. in the opener of their own best-of-three series for third place.