DYNASTY or destiny?
The answer should be known on Saturday afternoon when two-time champion Ateneo eyes a return to the UAAP women’s volleyball finals against a University of the Philippines side that is looking to complete a Cinderella finish.
Armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, the top-seeded Lady Eagles will bank on experience, confidence and their ‘Heart Strong’ mantra instilled by Thai coach Tai Bundit in a powerhouse team led by many-time MVP Alyssa Valdez.
The Lady Eagles have not been beaten in the finals since Season 76, when a team led by Valdez and super rookies Michele Morente and Jia Morado beat a thrice-to-beat La Salle side to end the Lady Spikers’ run of three successive titles.
Now, the Lady Maroons are pretty much in the same situation, their rookie-laden team looking to pull off the mother of all upsets and bring a championship back to Diliman after 34 years.
An upset by Isa Molde, Diana Carlos and the rest of the Lady Maroons cannot be discounted since they inflicted Ateneo one of only two losses this season - a 19-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-22 win in their second meeting in the eliminations on March 6.
Meanwhile, second-seed La Salle and third-ranked Far Eastern University face in their own Final Four showdown on Sunday, also at the MOA Arena.
Although the Lady Spikers hold the twice-to-beat edge, coach Ramil de Jesus is wary of an FEU side which he said is well rested and geared up for the playoffs.
In contrast, the Lady Spikers are mentally and physically exhausted, he said, citing a weekend showdown with Ateneo and academics which the players had to deal with.
“Nakapahinga sila (FEU), may advantage ‘yun para sa kanila and then at the same time kami medyo pagod eh, kasi lalo na finals week dito sa La Salle. Mas mabilis makapagod kasi ‘yung mental at puyat,” said the veteran mentor.
FEU coach Shaq delos Santos, however, does not count their long break as an advantage.
“Kailangan namin ng laro kasi ang haba ng bakasyon namin,” he said. “Malaking factor ‘yun kasi syempre iba ‘yung nakakapaglaro ka lang sa court mo kesa ‘yung maglaro ka sa mismong venue ng UAAP. Syempre may crowd, may pressure ‘yung kalaban.”
De Jesus, an eight-time UAAP champion coach, only sees one distinct Lla Salle advantage over FEU – setter Kim Fajardo who at 5-foot-6 is three inches taller than FEU setter Gyzelle Sy.
“Advantage siguro, ‘yung height lang siguro ng setter namin kasi mas nakaka-block si Fajardo kesa kay Gyzelle,” said de Jesus. “Pero sabihin mo ‘yung ability halos parehas and then defensive team din ‘yung FEU so kailangan masabayan.”