After a slow start in the first set, the University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Fighting Maroons finished off their season run with a victory against the University of the East (UE) Lady Warriors, 14-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-23, at the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym, Saturday.
After the win, the Lady Maroons ended the season at sixth with a 6-8 record, tied with Adamson University.
“Hindi ko talaga priority ‘yung palo no’ng una, pero siguro gusto ko talaga [na manalo],” UP outside hitter Isa Molde said after leading her team for the first time this season with 14 attacks, four service aces, and a kill block.
Backs against the wall
The UP squad had a slow start in the first with captain Tots Carlos and Isa Molde exchanging smart attacks with UE outside hitter Judith Abil and graduating ace spiker Shaya Adorador.
Molde managed two consecutive aces with added help from the soft touch by UP co-captain Ayel Estranero, that allowed UP to take the lead early in the set, 8-5.
But the tables turned when Adorador stepped into the service line, making it difficult for the Lady Maroons to convert receives to attack points.
The Lady Warriors led a 0-8 run, with the help of UE libero Kat Arado who did not allow any ball to fall on their side of floor and Adorador’s service aces.
UE lost its momentum with an error from a rally, 9-13, but State U returned the favor by committing a series of defensive errors that let their oppointent manage another 0-4 run.
UP setter Rem Cailing finally stopped the bleeding with a one-two play, 10-17. But Coach Gody Okumu took her out of the court after another error, putting in UP wing spiker Marian Buitre who has not played for several games in the season with Estranero acting as setter.
UE won rally after rally with Arado keeping their defense alive, 11-19.
Despite having their backs against the wall, UP did not go down without swinging as Carlos and Molde string some off-the-block hits, 13-20.
Still, State U’s errors proved to be the winning strategy of the Lady Warriors, ending the set at 14-25.
By the second set, the Lady Maroons were still trailing behind the Lady Warriors as they committed hitting errors courtesy of Carlos, Cailing, and middle hitter Jessma Ramos.
UP captain Tots Carlos elevated and kept her team afloat, 6-7. But UP took two steps back, giving away easy points to UE.
Meanwhile, UP middle blocker Layug woke up to shift the momentum back to the Maroons with blocks on Adorador’s attacks, 9-8.
UE’s Me-an Mendrez retaliated with a quick down-the-line hit, but Buitre replied with a block on her second try.
Both Layug and Buitre contributed to the scoring spree with service aces and quick attacks to bring their team up, 12-10. Molde also got fired up, attacking from the crosscourt and through the hands of Mendrez.
The Lady Maroons tried to keep the lead on their side with Ramos killing an over-receive off of Buitre’s service, 14-11.
But UE captain Baliton will not let her team down with quick-witted attacks and a service ace, 14-13.
Both squads chase the lead, deadlocking at 14-14, 15-15, 17-17, but UE reclaimed the lead with Adorador serving once again.
UP still struggled to find their groove and gave up another point with an attack error 18-20.
Determined to bounce back, UP managed to keep the ball in the air, allowing Carlos and Molde to strike hard-driven spikes.
The match tied with UE’s errors, 21-21, but Layug surprised the opponent defense with her intense serves, leading the team to match point, 24-21.
UP completed its bounce back with a lucky save by libero Justine Dorog that pushed UE to commit an error at the antenna, 25-22.
It was a seesaw battle with the game tied one set apiece.
Both eager to get ahead in the game, the teams rallied point after point, 1-1, 3-3, 5-5, 9-9, 10-10, and 12-12.
But Coach Okumu, who seemed unsatisfied with the head-to-head match, tried to experiment with his lineup and replaced UP captain Carlos with rookie Lady Maroon Roselyn Rosier.
Rosier quickly attacked on the service line, getting help from Buitre who amazed the crowd with her decisive hits and blocks.
With Molde unloading strong services, Rosier directed an off-the-block hit in the frontline, 14-12.
UP accomplished a 3-1 run, with Estranero playing setter and winning a joust against the tall UE lineup, 16-13.
But the Lady Warriors responded with a 0-8 run, courtesy of service aces by Abil, completely dismantling the efforts of the State U, 16-21.
Buitre, enjoying her court time, handled a kill block and an attack, 18-21.
Carlos returned to the game with a rejuvenated block, inching closer to a tie. No team allowed their opponent to pull away, 21-21 and 22-22.
But UP demonstrated their fighting spirit, headed by Buitre who ended the set with another kill block, 25-23.
With a two-set advantage, the Lady Maroons came in the fourth set armed with strong serves and clever attacks.
During the first half of the set, UP played catch up with Adorador putting pressure on the defense of UP, 7-10.
The Lady Warriors continued to enjoy a comfortable cushion, with Arado handling the hits of Buitre, Ramos, Carlos, and Molde, 9-13.
UP caused a 4-3 run against the Lady Warriors, with a one-hand block by Layug against veteran Adorador.
Unfazed by Arado’s defense, Carlos hit a strong spike and Molde with a fierce crosscourt attack to inch closer to UE, 17-18.
Molde took over the scoring streak through three consecutive off-the block hits, 20-20. She also tricked Arado with an off-speed attack, gaining the lead for the UP squad.
UE also showed their warrior spirit, as Mendrez, Adorador, and Abil take off with their forceful downward angle against the UP defense to tie the game once again, 23-23.
But the errors on the UE side swung the momentum to the State U, allowing Carlos to finish the season with an angled hit.
“It was strong, but I was thinking of a 3-0,” said Coach Okumu after her team suffered a total of 40 errors in the game, almost at par with the turnout during their first encounter with the UE squad.
Despite not fulfilling their final four hopes, the UP squad is looking to come back next season with a stronger and more intact team under the headship of the Kenyan Coach.
“Matanda na kami, so uhaw na kami diyan [final four],” said Carlos, who garnered 11 attacks, one kill block, and two service aces.
Coach Okumu also guaranteed that they will not wait for anyone to lose next season, putting their fate into their own hands to finally return to the final four.