With their backs against the walls, Ateneo de Manila University will swing for the fences when they meet the University of Sto. Tomas tomorrow for the Game 2 of the best-of-three Finals of the highly-vaunted UAAP Season 81.
The Lady Eagles are at a disadvantage heading into the 4 p.m. clash at the Mall of Asia Arena as the Golden Tigresses dominated them in three quick sets the last timeout en route to taking the Finals lead.
Led by the MVP-ROY tandem of Sisi Rondina and Eya Laure, the Espana-based squad is now at the brink of ending an 8-year title drought. This after the blue side completed a head-to-head eliminations round mastery over them.
It is a win-or-go-home situation for Katipunan.
So how can they force a deciding Game 3 on Saturday?
At this point, whenever Ateneo drops a match, it is almost always due to their wobbly first balls.
In their latest loss, the Golden Tigresses preyed them from the service line, dominating the ace department with 10 aces compared to the latter’s one. The Lady Eagles’ problematic reception was only at a 16.67 percent team efficiency.
Ponggay Gaston delivered seven excellent receive on a 27.27 percent efficiency. Libero Kim Gequillana only had five, while Jules Samonte and Dani Ravena had four and three, respectively.
This led to fewer options in running their middle hitters, which proved to be the best in the tourney. Middle blockers Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon only connected combined six-out-of-18 attacks.
Steadier passing will allow Deanna Wong to generate more middle offense, letting off some scoring burden from Kat Tolentino and their wingers.
CONTROL THE MIDDLE
During their second-round tussle, this season’s second-best middle blocker Madayag made UAAP history by tallying 11 huge blocks in a single game. She clearly had a hand in that come-from-behind win.
Last game, though, Madayag only had one. De Leon and Tolentino, two of the most notorious blockers this year, had two blocks apiece for a total of five blocks for Ateneo.
If ever they won’t be able to solve their reception woes, the Lady Eagles must then make sure to put on a wall at the net to soften the blows coming from Rondina and Laure, the league’s top two spikers.
MORE NUMBERS FROM THE OPEN
Rondina and Laure, no argument, are this season’s best open hitter duo. Their prowess was in full display as they dominated the left wings with combined 29 spikes, which is five more compared to Ateneo’s team total of 24.
Meanwhile, Ateneo’s outside hitters Samonte and Gaston played subpar, only managing six and one point, respectively. Clearly, their numbers were not enough.
Samonte and Gaston do not need to produce a lot, but they have to be as stable as they can be both in punching in numbers and providing good first balls.
CHAMPIONSHIP SAVVY IS KEY
Ateneo must dig deep in their championship experience, something that they do not lack.
Madayag, de Leon, and Gequillana were all part of the historic two-peat championship roster of the Lady Eagles in Season 77 – their last title to date.
Meanwhile, calling the shots for them is coach Oliver Almadro, the architect of the three-peat feat of the men’s team of Ateneo.
This should play as their advantage against UST, who has just returned to the Finals since its last participation in Season 73.
But while this factor may not be seen on the stats, championship experience may prove vital for Ateneo in cutting down deficits and keeping the momentum at their side.