ATENEO star Alyssa Valdez has a firm grasp of the enormity of the task facing the Lady Eagles in the UAAP women's volleyball finals.
“Lahat na yata (ng advantage) nasa La Salle,” admitted Valdez on the eve of Game One of the championship series against their longtime nemesis on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Valdez, of course, is not exaggerating.
De La Salle is the three-time UAAP champion, a team so formidable it has gone unbeaten over its last 29 games in the league and has dropped just two sets all season.
A sweep of their 14 games in the eliminations, in fact, has given the Lady Spikers a thrice-to-beat advantage in the finals, meaning they only have to win twice while Ateneo need to win three times to win the title.
But more than that, Valdez said it is the experience of the Lady Spikers as well as their admirable composure under pressure that make them tough to beat in the finale.
Does she see any weakness in La Salle?
“Ang La Salle kasi three years na silang andyan na nasa top,” said Valdez. “Experience nila ang ilalaban nila sa amin. Na sweep nila (ang elimination round), ang wall ang hirap tibagin kung walang lamat.”
“Height, experience, mas madami silang veteran players, at maganda talaga ang composure nila kahit down sila sa laro maintained nila (ang composure nila). Parang wala naman silang weakness, siguro ang kalaban na lang nila eh ang sarili nila,” she added.
The only thing going for Ateneo right now is momentum, the underdog team having won seven straight games since Thai coach Anusorn 'Tai' Bundit rejoined the Lady Eagles after going home to fulfill commitments with his country's national training pool.
The Lady Eagles have also survived three do-or-die games in the playoffs - two against twice-to-beat second seed National University - to reach the finals for a third successive time.
Being the underdogs, there will also be less pressure on Ateneo, Valdez said.
“Siguro maganda 'yung way ng thinking namin na no expectations,” said the cheerful third-year spiker. “Kasi, we're just doing our jobs, our part and our role as student-atheletes. Mas okay na 'yun na hindi namin pine-pressure ang sarili namin.”
History, though, is not on the side of Ateneo.
The last time La Salle earned a thrice-to-beat edge in the Finals came in Season 74, where they lost Game One to Ateneo but won the last two games to win the title.