May 23, 2013
V-League Finals: Ateneo vs NU preview
Exactly 15 hours from now, two of the country’s best women’s volleyball teams, the Ateneo Lady Eagles and the National U Lady Bulldogs, will clash in Game One of a short but meaningful best-of-three series at the MOA Arena that will determine which team takes home the championship trophy and the distinction of being called the best in the Shakey’s V-League 10-First Conference. And there is nothing more fitting than matching the league’s legitimately best teams. I mean, both Ateneo and NU deserve to be in the Finals.
You probably know by now what happened. Ateneo, the reigning back-to-back champion, sweeping an undermanned University of Santo Tomas team in two games and NU, a finals first-timer, needing three games and a whopping 14 sets to fend off a tough, stubborn challenge from Adamson in the Final Four.
Eighteen days ago, the Lady Bulldogs overpowered the Loyola-based belles, 25-15, 25-12, 26-24, in their first and only meeting this conference so far. It happened in the quarterfinal round. But that was before Thai Jaroensri Bualee came into the picture. Bualee, of course, was acquired by Ateneo from San Sebastian just before the semifinals. So things have changed drastically and we can throw away that game and predict, Madam Auring style, on how the series is going to end up. Of course, just like any other fearless forecasts, I could either turn up correct and saying “I told you so” or end up wrong, flat on my face. But here’s my crystal ball anyway.
Why Ateneo Will Win
Ateneo have a strong import in Bualee, who is one of the most relentless attackers in the league today. She adds some blocking to her already dreaded dimension plus the fact that she has a knack of receiving balls wherever it may come from whether its from attacks, services, dinks or just mere drops, she’s there to get it, volley it to their setter and ends up slamming it back home for the hit. Also, she provides the fun-filled elder sister persona that a young Ateneo team needs. They have a veteran coach in Roger Gorayeb, who has probably won everything. You name it. V-League. UAAP. NCAA. Nestea Beach Volleyball. For all we know, he may have won gazillions of inter-barangay or fiesta titles. His experience will be an extra edge as he will face off with NU’s Edjet Mabbayad, a talented coach but still lacked the years that the former has. Also, the Bualee-Alyssa Valdez-Rachel Daquis-Fille Cainglet seems formidable. It also helps that the Lady Bulldogs have this penchant of erecting leads and then allowing it to crumble by falling into a maze errors as evidenced in their semis series with the Lady Falcons. I mean, if NU falls into pieces, Ateneo is a deeper team than Adamson that can pounce on it in a jiffy.
Why NU Will Win
It has the league’s biggest star in Dindin Santiago, who is so far the league’s best scorer, best server and third best blocker going into the finale, and teammates who top the other categories like spiking (Myla Pablo), receiving and digging (energetic libero Jennylyn Reyes) and setting (guest player Ruby de Leon). NU’s formidable attacking group of Santiago, sister Jaja, Pablo, Aiko Urdas and Carmina Aganon are like clockwork. They form a rock-solid core up front may it be in offense or in defense. NU is brimming with confidence after surviving a tough challenge put up by Adamson. That three-game series woke up and at same time toughened up the Lady Bulldogs while the Lady Eagles were probably rusty after making quick work of the Tigresses, whom they swiped clean in just eight sets.
Players To Watch Out For
Gorayeb says it best: Ruby de Leon will make or break NU’s title hopes. Truly, NU follows wherever De Leon, who honed up her skills playing college ball for Santo Tomas, goes. In two Final Four games they won, de Leon averaged 37 successful sets while getting limited to just 30 in their Game One defeat. Ateneo’s Jamenea Ferrer will get her share of shinning moments but she’s too inexperienced, young and reckless to keep up with the battle-scarred de Leon. If Ferrer can keep up, and perhaps do better, things will look shiny on the side of Katipunan Road.
The Lady Bulldogs via SWEEP. Its tough, gruelling Final Four triumph over Adamson revealed NU’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses. But it also strengthened and toughened up the girls from Johcson Street, who were forced to play with more urgency after an adversity, problem-free pre-final route where they swept their way to the semis in seven games before getting stopped on their tracks with that Game One defeat to the Lady Falcons. Bualee, Daquis, Valdez, Cainglet and a gritty Ateneo defense will sure to create dillema, but NU will come in confident and prepared. Unless Bualee, Daquis, Valdez and Cainglet unleash their wrath with performances to remember and Ferrer turns into Ruby de Leon II, there’s no stopping NU from taking home their first ever Shakey’s V-League trophy.
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(Photos courtesy of Shakey’s V-League)