DEFENDING champion La Salle ended Ateneo’s juggernaut with a masterful 25-17, 25-13, 25-23 win to secure its 11th consecutive Final Four stint in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament yesterday before a crowd of 15,854 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Lady Spikers, who remained in second spot at 9-3, reasserted their mastery of the Lady Eagles, with coach Ramil de Jesus impressed with his troops’ workmanlike performance in the one-hour, 28-minute match.
“Hindi ko ini-expect na ganitong kabilis matatapos yung game. Naglaro nang maayos ang mga bata today kaya ginusto nilang manalo,” said De Jesus.
Rookie Jolina dela Cruz took the scoring mantle for La Salle with 14 points, while middle blockers Lourdes Clemente and Aduke Ogunsanya each had 10 markers.
The loss - only the second this season after a 10-game winning run - derailed Ateneo’s bid to seal the Final Four bonus and the No. 1 ranking.
The Lady Spikers pounced on the Lady Eagles’ reception and attacking woes in the first two sets and overcame a stirring fightback by their archrivals in the third frame.
Aside from securing another Final Four stint, La Salle opened a one-game cushion over joint third placers University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University in the race for the second twice-to-beat incentive.
The Tigresses and the Lady Tamaraws, both tied at 8-4, dispute one of the two remaining semifinals berths up for grabs at 4 p.m. today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Kailangan namin ng panalong ito para at least makalayo sa mga nakadikit sa amin like UST and FEU. Maraming nag-aagawan sa second place,” said De Jesus.
Substitute May Luna also proved to be a difference maker for the Lady Spikers with three service aces to finish with nine points while libero CJ Saga had 21 digs and 14 receptions.
In a duel of also-rans, Meanne Mendrez came through with 15 points while Roselle Baliton had six blocks for a 14-point outing as University of the East swept Adamson, 25-14, 25-19, 25-22.
It was the Lady Warriors’ third win of the season, the most since the Recto-based squad finished their 2011-12 campaign with a 4-10 record, while keeping the 1-11 Lady Falcons winless in the second round.
“Tinapos na namin yung sumpa ng UE,” said Kath Arado, the graduating Lady Warriors libero, who collected 33 digs.