By Luisa Morales
The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons end the first round with a loss, falling in four sets, 24-26,13-25, 25-22, 20-25, to the National University (NU) Bulldogs at the Mall of Asia Arena, Sunday.
State U started the first set with strong block points, and errors from the NU side gave them a significant advantage into the middle of the set, 16-12, but the Bulldogs came biting back with spikes late into the set, getting the 1-0 lead, 26-24.
Carrying the momentum from the first set, the NU squad dominated State U in almost every aspect, leading at one point by 12, 20-8. Despite a late run by the Diliman team, the margin was too large for the Maroons to overcome, giving up the second set, 25-13.
Getting a 2-0 lead, the Bulldogs looked poised to sweep the match.
Determined to not go down without a fight, UP kept the third set close.
With heroics from veterans Alfred Valbuena and Mark Millete, the Diliman squad went back-and-forth with NU, but crucial points late into the set kept UP alive, allowing the Maroons to take the third set, 25-22.
It was a tight contest early in the fourth, with NU up 8-7 heading into the first technical timeout. The Bulldogs looked to bite with force as they rallied after the break to lead UP 16-9. However, UP was not going away too soon, bringing the game as close as 23-17.
With key plays from Fauzi Ismail and crucial errors from the Diliman team, the Bulldogs were able to close the game, 25-20.
“Siguro kailangan lang [ng team] ay magmature sa lahat ng bagay, “ Fighting Maroon Mark Millete said on what the Diliman squad needs to do going into the second round.
Millete was the lone consistent bright spot for State U and the only Maroon to hit double digits, scoring 20 points. The team also missed the services of skipper Wendel Miguel who is recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
Four Bulldogs finished in double digits. Ismail led the team with 21, while Bryan Bagunas and James Natividad had 12 markers apiece.
National U closed the first round with a five-game winning streak, holding on to the second spot with a 6-1 win-loss record. The Diliman squad dropped to 3-4, tied at fourth place with the University of Santo Tomas (UST).