National University seeks the first of two wins it needs for a record sweep as it faces Far Eastern U in the opener of the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference Finals at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan on Wednesday.
The powerhouse Lady Bulldogs swept their group elims and the Arellano Lady Chiefs in their Final Four duel to reach the championship round. They are brimming with confidence against an FEU side that went through a grueling sudden death against Adamson to snare the other finals berth.
Veteran Bernadeth Pons returned to lead the Lady Tams’ bid against the Lady Falcons in rubber match late Monday, scoring 15 hits, including the match-clinching kill that sealed their 21-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 win and a spot in the best-of-three title series of the season-ending conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.
But Pons, along with libero Kyla Atienza, will miss the series’ opener to anchor FEU’s campaign in the UAAP beach volleyball tournament, making the intact Lady Bulldogs the heavy picks in their 6:30 p.m. encounter.
“I won’t push for them to play because they also have beach volleyball commitments for the UAAP. It’s a challenge for us coaches and for the players who will fill in their spots,” said FEU coach George Pascua.
A slew of players, however, have stepped up for the Lady Tams in their surge, including Czarina Carandang, Celine Domingo, Jeanette Villareal, Kyle Negrito and libero Ria Duremdes along with veteran Toni Rose Basas.
But they will have to double their effort as they slug it out with a solid NU crew composed of Jaja Santiago, Risa Sato, Aiko Urdas, Jorelle Singh, Audrey Paran and ace playmaker Jasmine Nabor.
Meanwhile, FEU is actually shooting for a sweep of the PVL titles as its men’s team is clashing with a fancied Ateneo squad in their own side of the best-of-three finals at 10 a.m.
UST and NU duel for third place in the men’s division at 8 a.m. while Adamson and Arellano face off in the battle for third in the women’s section at 4 p.m.
Santiago is again expected to be NU’s main weapon with her towering frame, power and experience with the national team mainstay taking charge in the clutch in powering the Lady Bulldogs past the Lady Chiefs, 25-17, 26-28, 17-25, 25-13, 20-18, in Game Two of their semis matchup last Saturday.
“They (Lady Bulldogs) have been together for a long time already so their chemistry is already there. We just have to strengthen our blocking against Jaja (Santiago). NU’s strength is in their blocking and service. But I think we’ll be able to manage that,” said Pascua, whose wards placed second to the Lady Bulldogs in the group stage.