Witness history: Ateneo does the improbable, bags UAAP women's volleyball crown

Manila, Philippines-The Ateneo Lady Eagles celebrate after defeating De La Salle University in Game 4 the UAAP women's volleyball finals held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, south of Manila on 15 March 2014. (Czeasar Dancel/NPPA Images)

(UPDATED) They needed to win three times, and that's exactly what they did.

Rookie-laden and not expected to make any noise this season, the Ateneo Lady Eagles swept defending champion La Salle 25-23, 26-24, 25-21 in tehir winner-take-all match complete their magical ride to the top of the UAAP Season 76 women's volleyball before an electrifying Saturday crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Although tabbed as underdogs against a four-peat-seeking Lady Spikers that enjoyed a twice-to-win, thrice-to-beat advantage, the Lady Eagles refused to wilt and displayed poise well beyond their age, capped by an astonishing perfomance in nearly two hours watched by an animated crowd of 21,314.

Aside from becoming the first squad to go all the way through the step-ladder format, Ateneo also notched its first league title since joining in 1978 and also avenged its two straight finals losses to La Salle.

“Worth it talaga ‘yung mga pinaghirapan namin,” said reigning league MVP Alyssa Valdez, who was named finals MVP following her game-best 21 points built around 18 booming spikes and two service aces.

“Nakaabot pa kami sa dulo. (Making it to the) Final Four lang talaga goal namin pero andito kami ngayon nakatayo at nakuha pa ang title. Sobrang thankful talaga kami,” she added.

Also basking in the limelight of the Lady Eagles’ breakthrough win was first-year coach Anusorn “Tai” Bundit.

“I’m very happy because we beat the defending champions,” said the Thailand native in broken English.

While the Lady Eagles whooped it up at the center court, the same could not be said of the stunned Lady Spikers, who were left huddling in circular formation at the other side of the court, some of them, including graduating team captain Abigail Marano, in tears.

The Lady Archers, who were shrouded in a cloak of invincibility after sweeping the 14-game eliminations, only had themselves to blame.

After falling short in the opening set, the Lady Spikers charged back in the second and appeared on their way to an equalizer by taking a big 17-10 cushion off a Marano spike.

The Lady Eagles, however, didn’t blink and methodically clawed their way back, even forging a 24-all count before Valdez nailed one down the line and Amy Ahimoro came up with a block to take a commanding two-to-nothing set and push their rivals on the brink.

Smelling blood, Ateneo poured it on in the third, shattering a 9-9 count by scoring the next 10 points behind its fluid attack and rejuvenated defensive stance.

But La Salle didn’t go down without a fight as the likes of veterans Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo and Marano conspired in an 11-2 counterattack that cut Ateneo’s lead to just 19-21.

However, Galang committed an error that swung the tide back to the Lady Eagles, who leaned mainly on the hard-hitting Valdez for the killer blows that completely sent the Lady Spikers down to their knees.

“We just enjoyed the game and played our best. Ito naging maganda naman ang resulta,” Valdez said.

The emphatic three-set victory proved to be the perfect icing on the cake for the Lady Eagles, who outlasted Adamson Lady Falcons in their knockout match early in the step-ladder format and overhauled a twice-to-beat disadvantage against the No. 2 National U Lady Bulldogs before finishing off the favored Lady Archers in style.

The scores:
Ateneo – Valdez 21, Morente 11, De Jesus 10, Ahomiro 6, Morado 4, Patnongon 1.

La Salle – Galang 11, Marano 8, Tan 7, Demecillo 6, Reyes 6, Fajardo 2, Cerveza 1, Cheng 1.
Setscores: 25-23, 26-24, 25-21.