By Luisa Morales

The University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons end their first round campaign with a heartbreaking five-set loss to the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs, 23-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-18, 12-15, at the Mall of Asia Arena, Sunday.

Early in the game, State U libero Princess Gaiser suffered a knee injury and was out for the rest of the match. The graduating player has been ruled out of the season due to a torn ACL, ending her collegiate career.

Despite being undermanned, the Diliman squad managed to keep the set tight against the Bulldogs.

By the end of the first, it was the Bulldogs closing out the set due to costly errors from UP and a powerful spike from NU captain Jaja Santiago to lead 1-0, 25-23.

The NU squad looked to bite coming into the second set. Starting strong, the Lady Bulldogs were able to build a comfortable lead, 21-12. Late heroics from the Diliman squad was not enough to take back the set, giving National U a 2-0 lead, 25-17.

Unfazed by NU’s lead, State U fought back in the third set, capitalizing on the Bulldog’s errors. The Diliman squad stayed alive and took the set, 25-22.

With momentum on their side, the Lady Maroons were ready to mount a comeback. The squads went back-and-forth in the beginning of the fourth set, but strong spikes from Tots Carlos and veteran Nicole Tiamzon powered State U to pull away by the middle of the set, 19-13.

Santiago and the Bulldogs had a mini-run late in the set, but the Maroons were too far ahead and tied the game at 2-2, 25-18.

Pressure and stakes were high in the deciding set. The Diliman Squad dominated the start of the set, looking to complete the comeback as they held onto a 4-point lead, 10-6.

Despite the momentum, the Lady Bulldogs pulled off a 9-2 run to close out the match, 15-12.

“Lumalaban naman kami…. Siguro sobrang pinatay kami sa errors, yun lang naman talaga yung problema, and yung endgame, parang dun kami nastuck,” UP Libero Justine Dorog said about the match. State U looked poised to complete the comeback but failed to close out.

Marian Buitre led the UP squad with 20 points, followed closely behind by Tots Carlos with 18 and Tiamzon with 15. Team Captain Jaja Santiago led NU with 18 markers, getting help from teammate Jorelle Singh with 15.

UP suffers its third straight defeat and ends the first round with a 4-3 slate. State U is in a four-way tie at third with the NU Lady Bulldogs and the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws, and the University of Santo Tomas Tigresses.

The Lady Maroons face a tough challenge in their opening match of the second round as they go up against top-ranked Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Lady Eagles  on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.


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