NATIONAL University retained the title after it turned back familiar foe Ateneo in another five-set thriller, 19-25, 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 15-4, in the Shakey's V-League Collegiate Conference at the PhilSports Arena on Wednesday.
MVP Jaja Santiago led the way for NU with a game-high 27 points, anchored on 23 kills, while Jorelle Singh added 16 and Finals MVP Jasmin Nabor contributed 14 points, including the championship-clinching point, and all of the team’s 43 excellent sets.
“Syempre sobrang saya actually hindi ko expected na magcha-champion kami this year,” admitted Santiago, who played without former teammates Myla and Marites Pablo, Bia General and Ivy Perez who were part of the championship team last year.
“Kasi nga andaming nawala sa amin, ang daming kulang, so sobrang high morale kasi nakuha namin ang championship ulit,” she added.
NU pulled away from a close, 4-3, contest in the fifth set after a 4-0 spurt to widen the gap, 8-3.
There was a momentary delay in the fifth set when water spilled on the side of NU after change court but that didn't stop the Lady Bulldogs, who pushed the lead, 11-4, after a Singh hit through the block attack. Nabor then went on to score NU's final two points to claim the crown.
"Sinabi lang sa amin ni coach Edjet (Mabbayad) na mag-relax lang kami, ‘wag masyading tight, kilos lang kami kung ano ang kailangan naming ikilos sa loob ng court and magtulungan sa loob ng court,” shared Santiago.
“Siguro ‘yung nanaig noong fifth set is ‘yung kagustuhang makuha ng team namin (ang panalo), tumaas ang tapang ng team namin and ‘yung tukung-tulong sa loob ng court lumabas,” she added.
Defending champion Lady Bulldogs, who defeated the Lady Eagles last year, also won Game One in five sets but this marks the first time they won the title in a sweep of a best-of-three Finals series.
In 2013, also in the same venue, the Lady Bulldogs pulled off a 25-23, 25-19, 17-25, 26-24, win in Game Three over the Lady Eagles to snap a 50-year title drought in a major tournament.
Last year, NU came back from a 0-1 deficit to win the title.
Bea de Leon finished with 14 points for Ateneo, while skipper Michelle Morente and Jhoanna Maraguinot added 13 markers apiece.