NATIONAL University completed a twinkill against University of Santo Tomas for a winning start in the UAAP volleyball tournament yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The powerhouse Bulldogs began their three-peat quest in the men’s division with a tough 27-25, 23-25, 25-19, 27-25 victory over the Growling Tigers.
Congo’s Margot Mutshima had a smashing debut with 23 points as upstart NU outlasted last season’s women’s runner-up UST, 22-25 25-23 20-25 25-20 15-13.
In their first game without last year’s MVP Bryan Bagunas and the reliable troika of Francis Saura, Madz Gampong and Kim Malabunga, the Bulldogs proved that they can still contend for another championship.
“Medyo balanse yung team namin ngayon kasi last year talaga nakafocus kami sa offense namin ngayon sabi ko yung offense natin bababa talaga porsyento, focus tayo sa depensa namin,” said NU mentor Dante Alinsunurin.
Taking over the spot left by Bagunas for the Bulldogs, Nico Almendras came through with 20 points, including two service aces, and 14 receptions.
Edward Camposano, a transferee from University of the East, opened his one-and-done year with 19 markers, including four blocks, new captain James Natividad added 11 points while second-year playmaker Joshua Retamar tossed in 21 excellent sets.
In the other men’s match, rookie Louis Gamban had 10 points and six receptions as UP stunned three-time champion Ateneo, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22, ending a 12-match losing streak against their Katipunan rivals.
It was the Fighting Maroons’ first win against the Blue Eagles since Dec. 11, 2013, a 25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 25-19 victory.
John Lomibao, another UP newcomer, scored a team-high 11 points while Joshua Castillo added nine markers.
“Ang goal namin talaga simulan ng maayos ang season. So kahit sino ang maging unang kalaban,” said coach Rald Ricafort. “Nahirapan lang talaga kasi Ateneo ang simula agad so ang anticipation, ang pressure nasa amin.”
Despite a stellar showing, Alinsunurin admitted that his Bulldogs are still breaking in their integrated system, taking some time to crank up their offensive machine before repulsing the Growling Tigers.
“Bago kasi yung naging sistema namin, yung opensa ng UST, tapos ‘yung adjustment namin mabagal,” said Alinsunurin. “Yung first game namin medyo matigas talaga buti na lang nung bandang huli, hats off kami sa depensa namin.”
Not to be outdone is NU’s women’s team, which made an early statement with the triple towers of Mutshima, sophomore Ivy Lacsina and comebacking Risa Sato.