UAAP 79 Final Four preview: Ateneo Lady Eagles vs FEU Lady Tamaraws

MANILA, Philippines - A thrilling match-up between the league’s veteran spikers await when the top seed Ateneo Lady Eagles take on the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws in the semifinal round of the 79th UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament.

The twice-to-beat Lady Eagles look to fend off the charge of the gritty Lady Tams, a team that has pushed them to 5-setters back in the eliminations. 

Ahead of their clash on Sunday, April 23, Rappler takes a look at the two teams’ road to the semis: 

Road to the Final Four

Following the graduation of the UAAP superstars we’ve kept track of over the years, the Lady Eagles have emerged as one of the teams to beat in this year’s tight contest. The Katipunan-based squad only dropped two games in the preliminaries, both to its tormentor National University, which meanwhile came up a win short of making the semis. 

What makes this particular showdown interesting is the fact that FEU, despite the consecutive losses, has managed to push Ateneo to the brink and refused to give them an easy way out. 

In their second round meeting, the Lady Eagles took the first two sets and looked in great shape to run away with a sweep. But the Lady Tams, resilient as ever, rallied to make it a tie game before eventually succumbing to their foes in the deciding set. 

The girls from Morayta also wrote one great comeback story in their journey to the semis as they faced an early elimination scare when they reached 6 losses in the midst of the second round.

Keeping in mind that every game is a must-win, the Lady Tams went all-out to win 3 straight - two of them against fellow contenders NU and UP - as they punched a Final Four ticket for the 3rd straight year.

By the numbers: Ateneo versus FEU 

What also makes Sunday’s match-up a treat to follow is how a top offensive team in Ateneo will try to break the sturdy defensive wall of the Lady Tamaraws. Jhoana Maraguinot and the rest of the Katipunan spikers seek to once again challenge FEU’s blockers as well as its floor defenders, an area where the Lady Tams have shined this season (2nd in digging with 14.94 digs per set).

Keys to victory

The extended matches in the elimination rounds only gave us a preview of what’s to come in this next round clash between Ateneo and FEU. 

Based on the two games we’ve seen thus far, it may all come down to who can play with utmost composure and focus in the homestretch, and who can close out in commanding fashion during neck-and-neck situations.

Service and reception may also play a critical role in this match-up, with the Lady Eagles leading the UAAP in service points/aces (2.84 average per set), at the same time having a slight advantage over their rivals in excellent receptions. A case in point would be how Ateneo finished off its first round victory against the Lady Tams - with a service ace. 

During their first Season 79 duel, it was Kim Gequillana who sealed the deal for the Lady Eagles. Reaching match point at 14-11 after an error from the other side, Gequillana’s timely ace served as heroics for the blue-and-white, and a heartbreaker for FEU. 

This time around, however, the Lady Tamaraws cannot afford room for errors as they are at a disadvantage of going up against the twice-to-beat league leaders Ateneo.

‘Back to zero’ 

Despite their advantage, the Lady Eagles refuse to be complacent as they know that every single one of the semifinalists will go all-out regardless of their position in the Final Four. 

“Tulad ng dati naming sinasabi, back to zero na ‘yan kasi pare-pareho nang nasa semis,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sherwin Meneses. ‘Yung twice-to-beat namin, hindi namin ite-take advantage.”

(Like what we’ve said before, it’s back to zero since we are all in the semifinals. We won’t take advantage of our twice to beat [advantage].)

Asked if they had any preference of which team they would rather meet in the semis, Meneses said they don’t look much at the opponents, but would rather shift their focus in preparation for the next round.

“Sabi nga ni Coach Tai [Bundit], kahit sino ‘yung makalaban namin [sa Final Four] eh. Basta, maganda ‘yung preparation namin.”

(As Coach Tai told us, we can face anybody as long as we prepare well.)

The two teams collide on Sunday, April 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena. A deciding game, if needed, will happen on Wednesday, April 26 at the same venue.

Which team do you think will prevail in this semifinal showdown? Let us know in the comments below! Rappler.com