ATENEO overcame a late fightback from National University, 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13, to move a win away from a third consecutive UAAP men's volleyball championship on Tuesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles squandered a five-point lead, 13-8, in the final set but regained their bearings just in time as three-time MVP Marck Espejo pushed Ateneo at match point before Rex Intal denied Fauzi Ismail's attack for the clinching point.
Espejo scored 29 points, Tony Koyfman added 18, Josh Villanueva chipped in 14 and Intal had 11.
After three weeks without a competitive match, Ateneo finally saw action and saw themselves trailing by a set, 1-2.
“Of course, sabi nga, kinalawang kami so ito siguro yung pagiging rusty namin. But good thing the Lord gave us still the win. A win is a win, five sets, four sets, three sets,” said Ateneo coach Oliver Almadro.
“Iba pa rin eh pag naglaro ka sa actual court. So I hope pagbalik namin sa second game, hindi na kami ganito. I'm sure that my players will really play well in Game 2,” he added.
The second match of the best-of-three series is on Saturday.
“I guess, the mind of the players will make us champions,” he said. “‘Yan ang sabi ko sa kanila, aside from the hard attacks, hard digs, hard blocks, what's important is we are not playing with just pure talent, we are playing within our hearts.”
Ismail scored 22 points for NU, Bryan Bagunas delivered 19 markers, skipper Francis Saura had 11 and Kim Malabunga added 10.