Sunday, March 16, 2014

Heartstrong - an underdog story!

The UAAP Season 76
Women's Volleyball Champion
The Ateneo Lady Eagles

DEJAVU? Ginebra Barangay Kings and Gilas Pilipinas star point guard LA Tenorio must have said that while watching the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles beat the De La Salle University Lady Spikers 25 – 23, 26 – 24, 25 – 21 in game 4 of the UAAP Season 76  Women’s Volleyball Championship enroute to the school’s  first UAAP Volleyball title.  For those who have been following the Lady Eagles and know their story, there are so many similarities of that 2002 UAAP Men’s Basketball team with the Lady Eagles although this time, the Women’s team just raised the bar higher.

LA and Chesca Tenorio - Dejavu?

The 2002 Blue Eagles were coming off a finals loss to the Green Archers the previous season – the first and only loss of the Ateneo to De La Salle in the UAAP Men’s Basketball finals. Although there were high hopes to get back to the finals the problems of the Blue Eagles piled up one by one, first was the team’s inability to adjust to the system brought in by first year coach Joel Banal. At one time in the season the team was at 4 wins and 5 losses and to make matters worse LA Tenorio got injured which made him miss 5 games.  The team eventually regrouped and won their next eight games. In those wins the Blue Eagles beat the four time defending champion DLSU Green Archers who were 13 – 0 at that time. The Blue Eagles also fought back to beat the favored UE Red Warriors led by James Yap as the team in Blue beat them twice which included the historic shot of Gec Chia. Game 1 of the finals went to Ateneo, DLSU took game 2 and the Blue Eagles went on to end a 14 year title drought with a convincing game 3 victory.


Yes you can say Dejavu but the Lady Eagles even raised an even higher bar this time around. Not only did they have a new coach who came all the way from Thailand but they were faced with a lot of chemistry problems as their coach was out for two weeks during the season to attend to some personal matters.  Adding four rookies to the team would mean starting all over again and their modest goal was a final four appearance.  To add to their woes, Ana Gopico a vital piece in the Blue Eagles frontline  got injured and was out for the season.  The Lady Eagles eventually finished third after the eliminations and have already reached their goal of making it to the final four. Meanwhile, the DLSU Lady Spikers swept the eliminations and were seeded directly to the finals with a thrice to beat advantage.


After making the elimination round their training ground the improbable began to happen – the Lady Eagles metamorphosed to another team, a team we did not see in the eliminations. While the DLSU Lady Spikers were waiting for their finals opponent the Lady Eagles went to work by dispatching the Adamson Lady Falcons, a team that they barely beat in their last outing, in three straight sets. After that game, the Lady Eagles were up against the tall Santiago sisters whose imposing frontline was so intimidating that the Lady Eagles lost to them in straight sets in their elimination games. Unfortunately for the Lady Bulldogs, the ladies in  Blue and White thrived under pressure as they eventually negated their twice to beat advantage by ekeng out a close 25-17, 12-25, 31 – 29, 28-26 win! It was in this game that the whole country served notice to team Heartstrong as the ladies in Blue were all heart and all out as they ousted the heavily favored Lady Bulldogs 25 -22, 8- 25, 25-19, 25-22! 


From the improbable, the Lady Eagles this time did the impossible which was win three games against the four-peat seeking DLSU Lady Spikers.   The Lady Eagles won the first and third games 3-1 and 3-2 enroute to their historic 3 – 0 thrashing in Game 4 of the once mighty Lady Spikers.  Their weapon – strong hearts, unity and being Happy! Coach Anusorum Tai Bundit instilled something in the hearts of the Lady Eagles that made them exceed even their expectations. The Ateneo community were content in beating the Lady Spikers twice in the finals and ending their 30 game streak, but the never say die lady eagles had more steam in them to end the reign of the green machine and start their own.   Dejavu? If this happens again in the future we will gladly welcome it with open arms. Again congratulations to the Ateneo Lady Eagles, the UAAP Season 76  Women’s Volleyball team overcoming all the odds and becoming the first team to win three games against a team that swept the eliminations.  Congratulations also to Alyssa Valdez, for winning the season MVP, Finals MVP, the best scorer and best server. Den Den Lazaro - best digger and best receiver. Truly these ladies are on a class of their own. Go Ateneo One Big FIght!


thanks to Philip Sison, Mon Rubio and Arvin Lim for their wonderful photos

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