Maroon hearts broke today, as the University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Fighting Maroons got swept in three sets, 21-25, 15-25, 26-28, by their Katipunan rival, the Ateneo de Manila (ADMU) Lady Eagles, today, March 10, at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

The moments leading up to the game were already tense for UP, as spiker Justine Dorog was rushed to the hospital mere hours before the game, that caused uncertainty to the UP community and players alike.

Despite the situation, the Lady Maroons still entered the game ready to battle in front of a packed crowd.

Once the first set began, the Lady Maroons were visibly locked in, chipping away the early lead established by Ateneo. Behind strong offensive plays, including an ace by senior setter Ayel Estranero and a few kills by Tots Carlos, UP managed to go on a 10-3 run, keeping the score at 14-12 in the middle of the first set.

UP’s luck started to run out as they had difficulties with their defense, and could not position themselves properly to combat Ateneo’s strong attacks.

Amid Ateneo’s powerful offense, UP would not budge as they managed to put Dorog in for her first minutes in the game – a move that received a standing ovation from the UP faithful.

But even with Dorog’s return,  Estranero on service duties, and a kill by Aie Gannaban, the gaps in UP’s defense proved costly, losing the set, 21-25.

It was a one-sided affair in the second set with the frame marked by UP’s sloppy defense. The Maroons tallied zero blocks during the period, and the miscommunication became an evident problems amongst them.

“In the second set,” mulled UP coach Godfrey Okumu, “if you noticed, we weren’t even talking.”

UP began the period keeping the game within a small deficit, but once UP reached its 15th point, defensive problems were again too much as they ended the set on a disappointing, 15-25.

Following the messy set and given one more set to make a comeback, the Maroons came into the third set with a refreshed vigor. A block by Carlos put the Maroons up with an early lead of 3-1, but UP’s defensive problems resurfaced once more, allowing UP to be down by as much as six points.

But UP would not let up as the dig-assist-attack combo by Romelyn Altomea, Estranero, and Gannaban, gave the Maroons the fire it needed to keep answering Ateneo point-for-point. This run culminated with an Isa Molde attack that tied the game at 20-20.

UP and ADMU traded leads with State U launching everything they had left, led by the attacks of Gannaban and Marian Buitre, sending the game past the regulation 25 points.

With the game at match point, a service ace by Buitre put the Maroons up one, but Ateneo seemingly had an answer for everything, and rallied back to tie the game.

In a strange twist of fate, the game fell back into Dorog’s hands, as she committed a devastating reception error that put Ateneo up by one. Dorog then looked to redeem herself on the next play by saving UP with a dig, but this would prove to be futile once UP failed to block Ateneo’s Deanna Wong who ended the game on a kill and a final set score of 26-28.

In addressing the media to explain the crushing defeat, the ever calm Coach Okumu said that the loss could really be attributed to a lack of focus. “We need to work mentally. We have to stay strong mentally. We have to stay focused,” said Okumu, “We didn’t play well because we lost the focus.”

“Sometimes, a loss like this makes us know, as a team, how vulnerable we are,” added Okumu. “It doesn’t matter how strong we think we are. It doesn’t matter how many players we have. Sometimes, we’re vulnerable, and that by itself, we need to address that part.”

Despite this, the coach of the Maroons maintained that he believes in the strength of the team, even noting how it puts a target on their back. “Everybody,” he said, “wants to beat UP.”

Tots Carlos scored the most points for UP with 10, while Maddie Madayag led the Eagles with 14.

The Lady Maroons currently sit at fifth place and aim to bounce back this Wednesday, March 13, against the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs, at the FilOil Flying V Centre. TNP

Photo by Clarizzah Tualla

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