'Hungry, veteran-laden' FEU expected to spoil La Salle-Ateneo finals party
Who will advance to the finals? Experts weigh in on the UAAP Season 80 Final Four match-ups. Marlo Cueto

AFTER a roller-coaster ride in the double-round elimination, it is time for the Final Four of the UAAP Season 80 women’s volleyball tournament.

Treble-seeking top-seed La Salle and second-seed Far Eastern University hold the twice-to-beat advantage, while No. 3 Ateneo and No. 4 National University will try to beat the odds and advance to the Finals.

The Lady Spikers will be up against the fourth-seed Lady Bulldogs on Sunday, while the Lady Tamaraws will face the Lady Eagles on Saturday.

SPIN.ph asked coaches and analysts for their fearless forecast on the Final Four match-ups and here are their insights:

(2) FEU vs (3) Ateneo

Veteran coach Sammy Acaylar, who steered the University of Perpetual Help men’s volleyball team to 11 titles, noted the Lady Tamaraws’ hunger for the title will be key, while the Lady Eagles must show grit to win.

It has been 10 long years since FEU had the sweet taste of victory and it will be the team’s biggest motivation to advance to the Finals.

“FEU kasi they’re hungry for the championship,” said Acaylar. “For how many years hindi pa sila nakatikim ng championship.”

“So tactician kasi si George (Pascua) and magaling siya sa strategy kasi coach siya ng lalaki so nakikita ko style niya sa lalaki, effective sa babae,” he added.

Ateneo, on the other hand, is not lacking in motivation as the Lady Eagles aim to avenge their back-to-back losses to the Lady Spikers in the finals.

However, Acaylar feels Ateneo’s inexperience could be something FEU can exploit.

“Ateneo naman alam naman natin na champion sila dati, gusto nila bumawi,” Acaylar said. “Coach Tai [Bundit] is an international coach, ok ang ‘happy happy’ but the language is parang nagkulang and bago kasi ‘yung mga players.”

“Palaban naman sila pero lumalabas ang pagkabata na hindi pa exposed sa ganyan na labanan,” he added. “Medyo bata ang players pero syempre nandoon ang pressure and doubt sa sarili. Lumalabas talaga ang pagkabata na kapag crucial na nagda-doubt na sila sa sarili niya.”

Volleyball analyst Doc Ian Laurel also believes that the Lady Tamaraws are completely equipped to foil the Lady Eagles’ plan to arrange another title clash with the Lady Spikers.

It’s not only the twice-to-beat advantage that puts FEU at the upper hand but it’s the team’s overall performance.

“Actually I think FEU has the advantage not just because of the twice-to-beat but because FEU, I think, adjusted just in time, they’re peaking, the blocking has improved so much in the second round so I think ‘yun ‘yung crucial sa game, for the series, which is actually the blocking and reception,” he said.

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“‘Yung Ateneo kasi it’s so hard for si (Deanna) Wong to take control of the game kasi, let’s face it, she’s very talented (setter) but iba ang pressure ng ganitong mga game so that might spell a big difference on the outcome of the game,” he added.

Laurel pointed out that having veteran players like Bernadeth Pons, Celine Domingo, Chin-Chin Basas and setters Gel Cayuna and Kyle Negrito will be key for FEU, and said Wong, who was converted from a libero to setter, will play a crucial role for Ateneo.

“Doon sa kabila mga beterano sobra, nandyan sina Pons, ‘yung Domingo ang laki ng ginaling sa blocking, nandyan si Chin-Chin Basas, si Cayuna and Negrito magaling, so kumbaga laging meron pwedeng bunutin si George na setter pero kung si Wong magaganda ang laro for Ateneo at saka hindi nerbyosin, may pag-asa,” he said.

University of Santo Tomas coach Kungfu Reyes, though, sees a tight battle between FEU and Ateneo.

In the first round, FEU defeated Ateneo in five sets but in the second round, the Lady Eagles avenged their loss via a straight-set win.

“Ang Ateneo-FEU magiging even para sa akin. Kasi FEU twice-to-beat pero heart of a champion naman ang Ateneo kaya pagdating ng Final Four nag-iiba ang character nila (Ateneo) so medyo may paghuhugutan sila lalong lalo ngayon nasa No. 3 sila ‘yun ang motivation nila ‘yun ang basa ko dyan,” said Reyes.

“FEU naman nakuha nila ang twice-to-beat. Syempre may mga beterano pa ang FEU nandyan sina Pons, Basas, Negrito. Ang FEU ngayon gutom na gutom talaga sa championship,” he added.

(1) La Salle vs (4) NU 

Acaylar again bets on the higher-seed, which in this case is defending champion La Salle.

“They are all good teams, lahat sila na nakapasok sa Final Four are very good. However, I believe that the twice to beat is very hard,” he said. “It’s the guts na lang ng NU and Ateneo kung paano ilaban sarili nila.”

Acaylar believes that for NU to topple La Salle, 6-foot-5 spiker Jaja Santiago must have a solid support from her teammates.

The veteran mentor also stressed that NU coach Babes Castillo must focus more on the technical side in his coaching rather than motivating his players as he goes up against 10-time UAAP champion tactician Ramil de Jesus.

“It’s not just Jaja, ang volleyball is not just a one-woman team. Sa nakita ko, umaasa sila sa isang tao lang so lahat dapat sila mag-work,” he said.

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“And parang nakukulangan ako sa diskartehan ng coach nila, I have nothing against him kasi diskarte niya yun, pero the way I see it, hindi niya binabasa ang kalaban niya. More on motivation pero dapat mag-focus sa coaching, sa diskarte niya,” he added.

Although La Salle is armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, Acaylar pointed out that the Lady Spikers must not be too complacent.

“Dapat hindi sila magkampante doon sa game na ‘yun, dapat championship game na kahit Final Four pa lang,” he said.

“Nakita ko na maganda ang team work ng La Salle, coach Ramil (de Jesus) is a good coach, madiskarte siya, nahold niya ang team niya na isang salita pa lang niya nakikinig ang mga bata. Team work ng La Salle is very okay,” he added.

Laurel, a former University of Santo Tomas ace, likened the Lady Spikers to a well-oiled machine and won’t give the Lady Bulldogs any fighting chance.

“I think si La Salle, no doubt, has the advantage kasi ang NU noong second round parang nag-regress sila parang paatras,” he said, referring to the Lady Bulldogs 1-6 finish after ending the first round on top with a 6-1 record.

In contrast, the Lady Spikers were unbeaten in the second round.

“Naging ano si Jaja easy to defend, pag nawala na si Jaja, nawala na rin ‘yung iba,” said Doc Ian. “And I think La Salle with the number of veterans Kim Dy, Majoy [Baron], [Michelle] Cobb akala natin weak point nila gumaling and nagka-kumpyansa, libero mo pa Dawn Macandili.

“So advantage talaga ang La Salle at saka ‘yung coaching experience ni Ramil compared ng coaching experience ni Babes in high school malayo. So tingin ko ‘di mananalo NU sa kanila,” he added.

Reyes, though, sees a glimmer of hope for NU against a dominant La Salle squad.

“High morale naman ang La Salle dahil sa 7-0 sa second round so ang momentum dire-diretso. But hindi mo rin masabi kung paano lalaruin ang Final Four, baka mas deadly pa sila sa Final Four, so kapag ang championship experience ng La Salle gumana talagang dominating sila,” he said.

“NU naman unstable ang performance ngayon pero siguro magawan lang nila ng paraan. Si Jaja cannot do everything pero pag tumulong ang support staff nila, pwedeng magawa nila ang upset nila sa first round kasi pag may receive, may atake sila,” he added. 

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